Jungle covered in black sludge after a landslide caused the country’s main oil pipeline to rupture, polluting rivers relied on by eight native communities
Ruptures in Peru’s main oil pipeline have spilled 3,000 barrels of crude into the Amazon region, polluting two rivers that native villages rely on for water.
National environmental regulator OEFA said the oil from the broken pipeline has poured into the Chiriaco and Morona rivers in northwestern Peru.
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Edwin Montenegro, a local indigenous leader, said at least eight native Achuar communities rely on the rivers for water.
Petroperu, the state-owned operator of the pipeline, said two breaks in the pipeline have stopped the transportation of 5,000 to 6,000 barrels of oil per day.
Peru’s health ministry has declared a water quality emergency in five districts near the spill.
Petroperu faces fines of up to 60m soles ($17m) if tests confirm that the spills, which took place in late January and early February, affected the health of locals, said OEFA.
It could take “some time” to resume operations, said Petroperu president German Velasquez.
Petroperu operates the pipeline and also refines the oil it transports, which had slowed in recent months to between 5,000 and 6,000 barrels per day amid slumping oil prices.
Heavy rains hindered Petroperu’s initial efforts to contain the damage as oil burst from retaining walls and spread into nearby rivers.
TV images showed thickets of jungle covered in black sludge and clean-up crews lifting buckets of crude from rivers.
Velasquez said a landslide likely triggered the first leak but the cause of the second rupture was unclear.
OEFA ordered Petroperu to replace parts of the pipeline and improve maintenance.
“It’s important to note that the spills…are not isolated cases. Similar emergencies have emerged as a result of defects in sections of the pipeline,” OEFA said in a statement.
Velasquez said the company was conducting an evaluation of the pipeline, built in the 70s, to prevent any future spills, a process that could take up to two months.
He denied reports the company paid children to clean up the oil but said he was evaluating firing four officials, including one who may have allowed children to collect the crude.
He said neither Petroperu or Pacific have declared force majeure – a clause in contracts which frees parties from obligations or liabilities due to an unavoidable accident or occurrence. Pacific did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Source: The Guardian
Photo: Steve Bloom Images / Alamy/Alamy