From: Leslie Josephs, Associated Press
Published March 7, 2006 12:00 AM

Natural Gas Pipeline Ruptures in Peruvian Amazon for Fifth Time

LIMA, Peru — A natural gas pipeline running through Peru's southern Amazon jungle ruptured for the fifth time, triggering an explosion that burned two nearby residents, officials and local media said.

The break in the Camisea duct occurred Saturday near the Urubamba River, in the department of Cusco, some 500 kilometers (313 miles) east of the capital, Lima.

Two Machiguenga Indians -- husband and wife -- were treated for burns in an Amazon health post, the El Comercio newspaper said on Sunday. Their three daughters escaped the explosion without injury but the family's crops were destroyed.

Saturday's was the pipeline's fifth rupture since operations began in mid-2004 and came only a week after an environmental consulting firm warned that the duct's poor construction would result in further breaks.

Gustavo Navarro, hydrocarbons director at Peru's Ministry of Energy and Mines, told Peru 21 newspaper that an investigation to determine what caused the "violent rupture," is underway, adding that the pipeline's operator, Transportadora del Gas del Peru, or TGP, has suspended pumping in the area.

TGP spokesmen were not available for comment on Sunday.

In December, TGP -- an international consortium including Argentina's Pluspetrol and Techint, Texas-based Hunt Oil, South Korea's SK Corp. and Algeria's state-controlled Sonatrach -- promised to invest up to US$30 million (euro25.5 million) to prevent ruptures.

Peru's Prime Minister Pedro Pablo Kuczynski told RPP radio that he had not ruled out sabotage among the causes for Saturday's rupture and resulting explosion.

"This is rather worrying for us because this could mean an act of sabotage," he said.

Last week, environmental San Diego-based consulting firm E-Tech International presented a report to the Inter-American Development Bank, which has funded the Camisea project, stating that the pipeline's construction was rushed and that new leaks could occur.

The firm said that the previous leaks were caused by poor construction, insufficient inspections, pipe corrosion and erosion.

TGP runs twin pipelines that bring natural gas and liquids from Peru's southeastern jungle region, across the Andean plateau and up the Pacific coast desert to Lima.

Following a gas spill in November, Camisea faced days of protests by Machiguenga Indians who said the gas had contaminated their Amazon communal reserve.

The project has been criticized by environmentalists who say it has harmed ecosystems and affected the health of indigenous people.

Peru plans to export gas to Mexico and possibly to the United States in 2008 or 2009.

Source: Associated Press

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