3000 barrels of crude oil recently flooded the Amazon rainforest after Peru’s main oil pipeline was damaged by storms. The disaster, which took place between late January and early February this year, have left large areas of the jungle smothered in stinking black sludge and two vital rivers have been badly polluted.
The owner of the pipeline is the state owned Petroperu, who have confirmed that a couple of breaks in their line have prevented the usual daily 6000 or so barrels of crude oil every day from getting through. And the nation’s health ministry has declared a water quality emergency across five different districts either already affected or at risk from the spillage.
The culprit of the first leak is likely to have been a landslide, caused by a storm, which ruptured the pipeline and ultimately poisoned two key rivers that eight different native communities of Achuar people depend on for water, the Chiriaco and Morona rivers in the north west of Peru. The cause of the second leak is unknown, but Petroperu has been ordered to replace various parts of the line and improve overall pipeline maintenance.
Petroperu could have to pay stiff fines if it turns out the damage affects local people’s health. They might be forced to pay out 60m Peruvian Soles, around 17 millions US dollars. They also say it could take some time to re-start their operations. The problem is heavy rains, which initially hindered repairs and made it very difficult to contain the damage.
Images on TV reveal beautiful jungle smothered in black goop, and dedicated clean-up experts doing their best to get rid of the crude oil from rivers using buckets. It’s dreadful. But it isn’t an isolated incident. We’ve seen similar cases in the past, with smaller leaks from defective segments of the pipeline a regular occurrence. The company is currently busy evaluating the line, which was built way back in the 1970s and is more than forty years old, to try to stop future leaks. This information gathering stage alone could take eight weeks.
There have been reports of children being paid to help with the oil clearance, but Petroperu denies it. At the same time they’re thought to be on the brink of sacking four officials who ‘let’ the children collect the oil.
Will we see more storms causing damage to infrastructure like this? Potentially, as climate change rolls on and El Ninos become more powerful.