Incompatibility of Oil and the Amazon Underscored in Recent Disaster

The Ecuadorian government’s ability to pursue oil development in the Amazon rainforest with “absolute social and environmental responsibility” has been placed into serious question in light of a May 31 oil spill.

Ecuador Displays Deficient Infrastructure and Transparency

News reports say an estimated 420,000 gallons of oil leaked from the Trans-Ecuadorian Pipeline System after it was damaged by a rain-caused landslide. However, our Quito-based sister organization, Fundación Pachamama, reports that the government has not been transparent about the extent of the spill, and is not adequately monitoring the  environmental damage it will cause.

An unknown quantity of oil spilled into the Quijos, Coca, and Napo Amazon rivers and then moved downstream. It contaminated drinking water in the urban area of Coca, which has an estimated 80,000 residents, and made its way to the Loreto region of the Peruvian Amazon. Brazil, which has placed itself on alert in case the spill crosses into its borders, has offered to help contain the spill upstream.

The total lack of an alert system, Ecuador’s slow response to the spill, and aged pipelines, suggest Ecuador’s ability to safely handle oil production and development are grossly inadequate.

A Poor Environmental and Social Record for the Oil Industry

In its news release on the spill, Fundación Pachamama stated that it, “…believes oil extraction is not the way to eradicate poverty in the country, let alone lead the country towards sustainable development.”

In contrast, Ecuador’s government states that the revenues from oil development are necessary in order to meet the needs of its citizenry.

Various individuals and organizations that have been fighting Ecuador’s XI Oil Round for the past several months question the government’s reasoning. Oil development in the Amazon has been unsustainable and unsound in light of the oil industry’s long record of contamination in the region, and the subsequent long-standing adverse effects it has had on rainforest biodiversity and indigenous nations that have lived in the Amazon for generations.

Indeed, the May 31 spill comes on the heels of oil-related bad news just across the border in Peru. In late March, an environmental emergency was declared in the Pastaza River Basin in Peru where a major oil producer operates. An inspection of the area revealed serious environmental contamination, underscoring doubt that oil development in the Amazon can be done in a way that avoids social and environmental harms.

The Pachamama Alliance stands with Fundación Pachamama in calling for greater transparency from Ecuador’s government, a full environmental impact study on the spill, comprehensive remediation of the affected area, and the urgent need for construction of a post-extractive economic model for Ecuador.

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Photo credit: Petroecuador