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The price of oil spills in Peru and Colombia? Millions of dollars in fines

  • The journalism alliance ManchadosXelPetróleo (StainedByOil) requested information on sanctions against oil companies operating in the Amazon regions of Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Colombia, as well as the Colombian Orinoquía.
  • After analyzing cases from 2011 to 2021, it was revealed that there were 282 cases of oil spills, with 72 companies involved; half of the companies have been fined.

Over the past four decades, there have been more than 400 reported oil spills in the Peruvian Amazon. In Ecuador, the Amazon suffered from 1,202 spills between 2011 and 2021, according to officials. And in Colombia, the forest has weathered not just the environmental emergencies caused by oil spills, but also incursions by militant groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), who blow up pipelines and deliberately release oil from transport trucks. In Bolivia, meanwhile, official information on oil spills is so lacking that it’s almost impossible to know just how badly the industry is hurting the environment.

Despite these socioenvironmental conflicts, the voices of Indigenous peoples in the Amazon continue to speak out — even if they’re not always heard. “The state says, ‘well, the land is yours but the soil underneath, for national interests, belongs to the state,’ and it’s in the subsoil that mining and oil work are done. They’re always trying to move in on Indigenous territories using that argument,” says Indigenous leader Patricia Gualinga, a member of the Amazon Women’s Collective and political adviser to the Kichwa Indigenous community of Sarayaku in Ecuador.

Former head of the Canaán community, Humberto Sánchez, poses near a pipeline that crosses through his community. Image by Enrique Vera.

But who’s behind the oil spills in the Amazon and the Orinoquía in Colombia? What’s their background? To answer these questions, the journalism alliance ManchadosXelPetróleo (StainedByOil) tracked down information on open cases involving oil companies in the Peruvian, Ecuadoran, Bolivian and Colombian Amazon, as well as in Colombia’s Orinoquía. Only in Peru and Colombia were the requests fulfilled. In Colombia, environmental officials provided information on the Orinoquía but not on the Amazon. In Ecuador, the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition sent a list of the 1,200 spills that had occurred over the past 10 years, although it didn’t specify which companies were responsible for which spills.

Bolivian authorities didn’t respond to a request for information by the time this article was originally published in Spanish.

Oil by the numbers

Between 2011 and 2021, environmental authorities in Peru processed a total of 143 cases involving oil spills. In the Colombian Orinoquía, there were 139 cases. This information comes from the files sent by the Peruvian Environmental Assessment and Enforcement Agency (OEFA) and a summary of sanction cases provided by Corporinoquia and Cormacarena, as well as regional and departmental environmental authorities of the Colombian Orinoquía.

Businesses with the most sanctions in Peru.

There were 72 companies sanctioned in the more than 200 cases across both countries: 16 Peruvian and 56 Colombian. Although the cases haven’t been closed, officials in both countries have already levied 169 fines against 36 oil companies: 16 in Peru and 20 in Colombia. The total surpasses more than $55 million, of which 98.8% went against Peruvian companies.

The following companies, according to the information provided by OEFA, have received the most fines to date: Pluspetrol Norte S.A., with 73 cases; Pacific Stratus Energy del Perú S.A. (17); and Maple Gas Corporation del Perú S.R.L. (14).

Businesses with the most sanctions in the Colombian Orinoquía.
Most-impacted natural resources by country (Soil, flora, water, fauna, air).

Main impacts

Water, soil and vegetation were most impacted by the oil spills in the Peruvian Amazon and Colombian Orinoquía between 2011 and 2021.

In Peru, there was damage to the soil in 45 cases, to vegetation in 24 cases, and to water in 20, according to the information supplied to ManchadosXelPetróleo.

In the Colombia Orinoquía, the natural resources most impacted by the spills were water, with 56 cases, followed by vegetation and water with 26 each.

The most common environmental damage in Peru was caused by crude oil spills from tank overflow, leaks from pipes, and the disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous waste. In Colombia, the spills affected rivers, streams and surface and groundwater concessions, while also creating problems with wastewater discharge permits.

In the Peruvian region of Loreta alone, there were 120 sanctions. In Orinoquía, there were 139.

In Peru, the oil fields with the highest number of sanctions were Lot 8 (with 47), Lot 1AB (20), Lot 95 (five), and the Norperuano pipeline (four). For Colombia, the information provided to ManchadosXelPetróleo wasn’t broken down into fields.

Millions in fines

Pluspetrol Norte of Peru and Perenco Colombia received the most sanctions and highest number of fines, according to information provided by OEFA in Peru and Corporinoquia and Cormacarena in Colombia.

Perenco Colombia Limited, with nine fines, paid a total of $169,633 in 27 cases. The second-most fined company is Empresa Colombiana de Petróleos Ecopetrol S.A. with three fines that added up to $110,167. In third place is Ingecoleos LTDA, with two fines totaling $6,815.

In Peru, Pluspetrol Norte topped the list of most-fined companies with a total of $47,322,662. In second place is Maple Gas Corporation with 14 fines for a total of $685,685.

In third place is Petróleos del Perú – Petroperu, which had two fines adding up to $4,959,033. This case stands out among the others because one of the fines was for $4,956,772, handed out for violating environmental regulations and not adopting adequate preventive measures for controlling an oil leak in the Norperuano Pipeline – Section II. The incident affected the Numpatkain creek and some areas of the Red River, as well as public health and the surrounding flora and fauna. Petroperú has appealed the punishment.

One other discovery of note in Peru is that at least two of the penalized companies appear to be in liquidation: Pluspetrol Norte S.A. and Maple Gas Corporation del Perú S.R.L. Some experts and Peruvian officials interviewed for this series say it’s an exit strategy that will allow them to skirt repercussions.

Banner image: A tanker truck in the Buenavista reserve in Colombia, home to the Siona Indigenous people. The image was tweeted out on Feb. 27, 2021, by the account @PuebloZiobain, with a caption attributed to reserve leader Mario Erazo saying, in Spanish, “The government says extracting oil leads to development. For us, as Indigenous people, it means extermination.”

This story was reported by Mongabay’s Latam team and first published here on our Latam site on April 19, 2022.

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