An oil firm engaged in a long-running dispute with indigenous communities in northern Peru last week yielded to demands to remedy environmental damage in its area of operations.
Argentina’s Pluspetrol agreed to clean up a lake and connected waterways located near the communities of Pucacuro and Pavayacu in the Corrientes river basin, which had been heavily contaminated with oil.
The decision followed protests sparked in mid-May when local government officials and representatives from the firm attempted to postpone a public meeting to discuss environmental contamination in the area. Police were subsequently deployed to the region after locals threatened to seize several of the company’s oil wells if negotiations did not resume.
During earlier protests local groups had previously followed through on such threats. In 2006 indigenous organisation FECONACO, which represents some 35 groups in the Corrientes basin, seized oil wells as part of efforts to pressure the company to stop discharging waste water into local river systems. The incident presumably continued to weigh on the minds of Pluspetrol executives, who this month conceded to the demands before any new such seizures took place.
FECONACO claims that since 1971 Pluspetrol and its predecessors – PetroPeru and Occidental Petroleum – have consistently failed to dispose of waste products in an environmentally sustainable manner. Studies have revealed that over half the population of Pucacuro have high levels of lead and cadmium in their blood.
Pluspetrol continues to deny any wrongdoing, but has now agreed to pay for a comprehensive independent review of the contamination and its possible effects on the health of locals. In the meantime, community groups are pressuring the firm to provide food and water to 200 families allegedly affected by the environmental problems. FECONACO is also considering legal action against the firm.