New oil spill puts Petroperu in the dock

03 July 2016

The resignation of Germán Velásquez as president of Petroperú on 28 June took place as the authorities sought to clarify how yet another oil spill took place from the Northern Peru Pipeline at the end of the previous week. A new president will be elected shortly. Meanwhile, the OEFA has announced it is imposing a fine on Petroperú of 11.5 million new soles for this latest spill. Critics of government policy towards Petroperú fear that this may provide a pretext for a new government to privatise the state company.

The latest oil spill, the third this year, was reported on 24 June. Approximately 600 barrels of oil spilled from the pipeline which links the jungle oilfields with the coast, affecting some 400 people from the district of Barranca, province of Datem del Marañón, department of Loreto.

Only two weeks before, Petroperú had admitted for the first time responsibility for the oil spills affecting the environment and the livelihood of other jungle communities during the public hearings held as part of the 158th Period of Sessions of the Inter-American Commission (IACHR), held in Chile. See:

The Coordinadora Nacional’s Working Group on Indigenous Peoples has issued a statement condemning the latest spill. It once again stressed Petroperú’s responsibility, not least since the company has so far failed to come up with a timetable for the required work to replace or repair parts of the pipeline, as instructed to do by the Organismo de Evaluación y Fiscalización Ambiental (OEFA). On this occasion, Petroperú denied responsibility, arguing that no crude had been pumped through the pipeline since February. The OEFA is reported to have said that this was untrue.

The Coordinadora’s working group further makes a series of recommendations that:

  • OEFA and Osinergmin initiate procedures and establish penalties to be levied;

  • OEFA should demand a timetable for the repair work needed on the pipeline;

  • OEFA takes preventive measures against Petroperú, stopping any pumping through the pipeline whilst parts of it are being repaired or replaced; and that

  • the environment and health ministries provide proper health services and food supply support to the affected communities, as well as ensure that there is a thorough clean-up operation.

The Northern Peru Pipeline was first constructed in the 1970s. Maintenance efforts have been a low priority. Germán Alarco from the Universidad del Pacífico, a former board member of Petroperú, has questioned how it was that oil was being pumped at all through the pipeline, suggesting that the latest spill may have been deliberate. He says that the problems facing Petroperú may be being exploited by those who want to privatise the company, particularly at the point of a new government taking office. He pointed out that ten of the 20 oil spills recorded since 2011 were the consequence of deliberate action.

The issue over whether Petroperú should be involved in extractive activities has been a political hot potato from the earliest days of the Humala administration.

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