Environmental Activists Unfurl Giant Banner at Vienna Oil Refinery
VIENNA, Austria Environmental activists scaled a large petroleum tank at an oil refinery on the outskirts of Vienna early Wednesday and unfurled a giant banner condemning the destruction of rain forests in Ecuador.
About a dozen demonstrators, members of the activist group Global 2000, demanded that refinery owner OMV stop oil exploration and drilling work in Ecuador and pay damages.
They accused the Austrian petroleum giant of inflicting widespread environmental harm on the country's rain forests and of causing higher cancer rates among native peoples.
After tying themselves to the 20-meter-high (65-foot-high) tank with rope, five of the protesters unfurled a banner measuring 180 square meters (1,935 square feet) that read "Stop Rain Forest Destruction!" and called on the company to divest itself of its Ecuadorean activities immediately.
"The shareholders of OMV should know that their dividends come at the expense of the life of the population of Ecuador," organizer Karl Schellmann said.
OMV's refinery covers several square kilometers (miles) and is a well-known landmark located along a major Austrian highway close to Vienna's international airport.
Leo Lauber, a police official, told the Austria Press Agency that authorities decided not to use force on the activists, who left the refinery after several hours of protest. They were not charged by police.
Global 2000 said it was particularly concerned with OMV's activities in the Yasuni National Park, accusing the company of "the destruction of the complex and extremely interlaced ecological system rain forest for unscrupulous oil production."
Protesters said they held OMV responsible for an estimated 70 million cubic meters of oil and chemicals they alleged have contaminated jungle soil and waterways over the past 30 years. They claimed that incidents of larynx, liver and intestinal cancers as well as skin diseases had drastically increased among Ecuadoreans living in areas where wells had been drilled.
OMV spokesman Thomas Huemer said in a statement Wednesday that the oil and gas concern was trying to pull out of South America, which is not a core region for the company, and that as a first step it sold off interests in Venezuela last year. He said efforts to withdraw from Ecuador were delayed by "complex political events" in the country, but that it remained a strategic goal.
Huemer also said a 2003 independent investigation showed that oil production operations were being conducted in accordance with modern environmental standards. "OMV has never taken its environmental responsibility lightly," he said.
In March, OMV reported a 44 percent increases in its profits.
Source: Associated Press