Authorities in Ecuador were trying on Sunday to contain a “large-scale” oil spill on a pipeline in an Amazon jungle region, where a major river threatens to be polluted.
Heavy rains caused landslides and rockfalls at the end of the week, leading to the rupture of a crude oil transport pipeline in the Piedra Fina area.
The incident took place on Friday at the border between the provinces of Napo and Sucumbios, on this 485-kilometer pipeline, which crosses four provinces, and is operated by the private company OCP (Oleoducto de Crudos Pesados).
To date, neither the government nor the OCP have indicated the quantity of oil spilled into nature.
According to the government, the landslide affected “four pipes of the infrastructure”, which transports 160,000 barrels of crude oil per day from oil wells in the middle of the jungle.
In a tweet broadcast on Sunday, the Ministry of the Environment said it was “verifying that emergency, cleaning and sanitation activities in the affected area are continuing correctly”. “Our technical staff continues to be deployed in the Piedra Fina sector.”
The OCP “assumes responsibility for this event, caused by a case of force majeure”, declared its executive president, Jorge Vugdelija.
– Polluted water sources –
“We realized that there had been a large spill,” admitted, in a video broadcast on Saturday, an official from the ministry of Juan Pablo Fajardo, who came to see the damage at the site of the accident.
“We consider that there was damage to water sources and that there was also damage to third parties,” Fajardo added.
Authorities have warned that the pollution could reach “the vicinity of the Coca River and possibly nearby water supplies”, on which several indigenous communities depend.
The OCP also announced that “the pumping of crude oil has been stopped as a precaution, and that it will be restored when the appropriate conditions are met”, but that this stoppage did not affect exports.
The emergency operations committee of the province of Napo explained that it had intervened to distribute drinking water to the inhabitants of the area.
The government released footage of the leak, as well as response work, with trucks and bulldozers attempting to climb earthen palisades. These images show oil-covered rocks and a black slick amid vegetation.
– Soil erosion –
“Containment actions have been initiated to prevent any environmental damage, and crude oil containment ponds have been constructed to prevent any type of impact on water sources,” OCP explained.
Two pipelines transport Ecuadorian crude from the Amazonian oil fields in the northeast of the country, to the ports of the province of Esmeraldas (northwest), bordering Colombia on the Pacific coast: a public pipeline (SOTE), to 360,000 barrels/day, and the private pipeline operated by OCP (160,000 barrels/day).
In December, in the same area of Piedra Fina, both the OCP and the SOTE had to suspend oil spills due to soil erosion caused by a river, and build alternative derivatives to their pipelines.
In May 2020, still in this area, a landslide damaged the two pipelines. The equivalent of some 15,000 barrels had spilled into three rivers, affecting nearby populations.
Ecuador has significant oil resources, especially in the Amazon region, with a strong environmental impact, and oil is its main export product (mainly via the public company Petroecuador). Between January and November 2012, the country produced an average of 494,000 barrels/day.
Between 1960 and 1990, Texaco, a subsidiary of Chevron, had exploited these oil reserves in the Amazonian forest and had been accused of having destroyed part of the forest and deliberately dumped millions of tons of toxic waste in the middle of the jungle or in the rivers. , on several hundred sites.