Who is to blame for the Amazon region's repeated oil spills?

3 February 2019

On 22 January, the regional governor of Loreto declared a state of emergency to restore oil production. This has been brought to a stop by what he called repeated acts of vandalism against the Northern Peru Pipeline, accompanied by closures of river transport, seizure of pumping stations and other illegal acts.

The solution he demanded was a strong response by central government against “phoney (indigenous) leaders incited by some NGOs”. However, by no means all acts of sabotage are caused by indigenous communities and blaming them ignores the fact that they have long been the primary victims of contamination.

The Instituto de Defensa Legal (IDL), quoting research by the energy and mining sectors’ public watchdog OSINERGMIN, confirms that 35% of the 190 spillages over the last 20 years in Peru were down to sabotage.

However, the main cause of the spillages (62%) was inadequate maintenance by the concession operators as well as Petroperú which is responsible for the old and leaky Northern Pipeline.

While IDL agrees that local pipeline saboteurs should be punished, it urges prosecutors to investigate those operating behind them. It points to the oilfield remediation companies that have sprung up in recent years and which benefit directly from clean-up contracts implying that they cause some of the damage that they are there to redress.

For their part the indigenous federations of the area have objected (via their national representative organisation AIDESEP) to the governor's apparent call for some sort of military involvement in the zone of conflict provoked by the spillages, proposing instead to the renewing of the pipeline and attending to the demands of the affected populations.

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