Heavy oil pollution remains in Amazon, despite company claiming clean-up is finished

Jeremy Hance
September 17, 2009

A new report shows that the Corrientes region of the Peruvian Amazon, which suffered decades of toxic contamination by Occidental Petroleum (OXY), is far from being cleaned-up. The survey, conducted by US non-profit E-Tech International, found that heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and hydrocarbons still exist at levels above the safety limits set by Peru and continue to threaten the Achuar indigenous community, who have long fought against the oil companies.

“Pollution from oil-spills still exists in many sites that have not been properly cleaned. When it rains, the oil runs down and contaminates the rivers and streams where the people source their food,” said Guevara Sandi Chimboras, an Achuar leader who has worked as an environmental monitor investigating contamination in the region.

Digging down a few inches into sites that have been 'cleaned' reveals crude and contaminated water just below the surface. Photo courtesy of Amazon Watch.
Despite the findings of the study, the current oil company in the region, Pluspetrol, and the Peruvian government have claimed that the clean-up is near finished. Argentine-based Pluspetrol inherited OXY's toxic mess byway of an agreement in 2000, which compelled Pluspetrol to clean-up the area.

From 1971 to 2000 OXY employed practices long outlawed in the US, including pumping millions of barrels of production waters into the area's rivers and dumping toxic waste in unlined earthen pits.

“The report leaves no room for doubt. Oxy’s massive industrial pollution of the region continues to threaten the Achuar people living in block 1-AB and Pluspetrol’s remediation has been entirely inadequate,” said Gregor MacLennan, Program Coordinator for Amazon Watch Peru, a non-profit that works to protect the rainforest and support indigenous groups in Amazon Basin. “The Peruvian Government must withhold its approval on the remediation operation until there is adequate cleanup."

An example of clean-up of an old contaminated site, mixing fresh soil with earth contaminated with crude. Photo courtesy of Amazon Watch.
In response to the report, the Achuar community's organization FECONACO has called on the Peruvian government and Pluspetrol to explain why they are stopping the clean-up effort.

Despite the long legacy of pollution, Pluspetrol did not upgrade OXY's infrastructure or re-inject production waters, until the Achuar community shut down oil production for 13 days in 2006 through blockades and protests.

Atossa Soltani, Executive Director of Amazon Watch, says that their groups calls “upon OXY to face up to their moral and legal responsibility to fund an adequate cleanup of their toxic mess in block 1-AB, to compensate thousands of Achuar who have suffered profound harm, and to ensure the Achuar have access to modern health care to treat any medical conditions which OXY has contributed to or created over the years,” OXY currently face an ongoing lawsuit for harming the health and environment of the Achuar communities.

Recent spill near Jibarito base, oil block 1-AB. Photo courtesy of Amazon Watch.

A 'cleaned-up' site visited by E-Tech. Despite being in the middle of lush rainforest, few plants are able to grow on the contaminated soil. Photo courtesy of Amazon Watch.

A lake contaminated by repeated spills near Dorissa base, oil block 1-AB. Photo courtesy of Amazon Watch.

Related articles

Amazon tribes have long fought bloody battles against big oil in Ecuador

(09/03/2009) The promotional efforts ahead of the upcoming release of the film Crude have helped raise awareness of the plight of thousands of Ecuadorians who have suffered from environmental damages wrought by oil companies. But while Crude focuses on the relatively recent history of oil development in the Ecuadorean Amazon (specifically the fallout from Texaco's operations during 1968-1992), conflict between oil companies and indigenous forest dwellers dates back to the 1940s.

Germany to pay Ecuador $650 million to forgo oil drilling, protect rainforest reserve

(09/03/2009) Germany has apparently agreed to fund a significant portion of Ecuador's scheme to leave Amazon rainforest oil reserves in the ground, according to Business Green.

Peru to proceed with oil and gas auctions in the Amazon despite indigenous protests

(08/07/2009) Despite violent protests by indigenous groups over plans to expand oil and gas exploration in the Peru's Amazon rainforest, energy investments in the South American country are expected to increase to $1.5 billion in both 2009 and 2010, reports Reuters.

Weeks after bloodshed, American oil moves into Peruvian Amazon, putting rainforest, possible archeological site at risk

(08/03/2009) Barely six weeks after a dozen Amazon natives were gunned down by the Peruvian Army in the oil town of Bagua for protesting the cozy relationship between Big Oil and the government of President Alan Garcia, I find myself on the banks of the Mother of God River in Salvacion, Peru, wondering if all those folks died in vain. Any day now, the bulldozers will be moving in as Texas-based Hunt Oil Company – with the full go-ahead of the Peruvian government -- fires its first salvo in its assault against the million-acre pristine rainforest wilderness of the little-known and largely unexplored Amarakaeri Communal Reserve.

Chevron expects to lose $27B suit but will refuse to pay damages

(07/22/2009) Chevron Corp. expects to lose a multibillion dollar environmental lawsuit in Ecuador but has no intention of paying damages and will continue to fight for "decades", reports the Wall Street Journal.

Oil or Death in the Amazon

(06/06/2009) More than 70% of the Peruvian Amazon has been allocated for oil and gas extraction, and the current government of Alan Garcia has been pushing for more. Unfortunately, as usual, these policies are promoted by and only benefit a handful of people, but negatively impact the lives of many. However, Garcia’s government did not foresee the potential consequences of their actions.

Peruvian police kill 10 Indians in battle over Amazon oil drilling

(06/06/2009) At least 30 are dead following a clash between police and Indians protesting oil development in Peru's Amazon region.

Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (September 17, 2009).

Heavy oil pollution remains in Amazon, despite company claiming clean-up is finished.