11,000 barrels of oil spill into the Amazon's Coca River
On May 31st, a landslide ruptured an oil pipeline in Ecuadorean Amazon, sending around 11,000 barrels of oil (420,000 gallons) into the Coca River. The oil pollution has since moved into the larger Napo River, which borders Yasuni National Park, and is currently heading downstream into Peru and Brazil. The spill has occurred in a region that is notorious for heavy oil production and decades of contamination, in addition to resistance and lawsuits by indigenous groups.
The pipeline operator, Petroecuador, has promised a swift cleanup and hired the U.S. company Clean Caribbean & Americas to that end. In addition to possible environmental damage, the oil spill temporarily contaminated drinking water for the 80,000 residents of Puerto Francisco de Orellana (or Coca), Ecuador, an oil town on the edge of the Napo River.
As the oil reached the Peruvian Amazon in Loreto, the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, apologized "for the problems we have caused."
Decades of oil contamination in the region has also spawned a major lawsuit against Chevron by local tribes. Locals say that billions of gallons of oil were improperly disposed of from 1964 to 1992 in the forest by Texaco, which Chevron took over in 2001. Two years ago, an Ecuadorean court order Chevron to pay a record $18 billion in damages, but the company continues to contest the verdict.
The current oil spill occurred in arguably the world's most biodiverse region. In fact, Yasuni National Park—parts of which are overrun by oil production—is often cited by scientists as having more species per hectare than anywhere else on Earth. For example, one study counted 655 tree species in a single hectare of Yasuni—more tree species than are found in all of the U.S. and Canada.
Yasuni National Park is also home to the innovative but controversial Yasuni-ITT Initiative, which would keep a remote area of the park (comprising around 200,00 hectares) free from oil development. In return, Ecuador has asked for around $3.6 billion in a UN-run trust fund (about half of what the oil beneath the ITT blocs is worth). But the nation has had a difficult time raising the revenue: around $300 million (about 8 percent) of the funds had been raised by late last year.
Oil and gas drilling development is spreading into new areas across the Amazon rainforest. A report last year found that 14 percent (over a million square kilometers) of the total Amazon rainforest had been split into oil and gas concessions.
See more at MONGABAY.COM.
Oil in water image via Shutterstock.