Pipeline Break Spills Oil Into Amazon Rainforest Reserve

QUITO, Ecuador, February 4, 2022 (ENS) – An oil spill has contaminated a protected area of rainforest in the Ecuadorian Amazon and polluted the Coca River that supplies water to Indigenous communities, says Ecuador’s environment ministry.

In Napo Province, a rockfall Friday after heavy rain caused a mudslide, and a falling boulder broke a pipeline owned by the private oil transport company OCP Ecuador.

The oily liquid gushed from the broken pipeline into an ecological reserve within a national park that is protected for the diversity of its landforms, animals and plants.

Roughly two hectares (five acres) of Cayambe-Coca National Park have been tainted, Ecuador’s Ministry of the Environment, Water and Ecological Transition said in a statement Monday.

The firm OCP said it had “collected and reinjected 5,300 barrels of crude into the system.” The ministry called the spill a “major” pollution event.

Located about 38 km (24 miles) from Ecuador’s capital, Quito, the park of some 400,000 hectares (988,420 acres) covers the high altitude sierra with the Cayambe volcano on the equator, a temperate cloud forest, and the hot, humid rainforest of the Amazon basin.

Spectacled bear in Ecuador, September 27, 2021 (Photo by Bettina Arrigoni)

Spectacled bears, mountain tapir, cougar, foxes, deer, and armadillos inhabit the reserve, together with 106 species of mammals, 395 species of birds, 70 reptiles, and 116 amphibians.

“We went to the site from the moment the spill started. A fellow park ranger reported the emergency,” Marco Chacón, administrator of the Cayambe Coca National Park – Low Zone, said.

“We are carrying out daily monitoring of each action that allows correcting the damage caused, we will remain vigilant throughout the process to guarantee the remediation and thus the protection and conservation of the area. In the last two days, 55 dump trucks of affected soil have been removed, three tankers of oily water have also been evacuated,” Chacón said.

Ecuador’s Vice Minister of the Environment Bianca Dager flew over the affected area and took a river tour with the artisanal fishermen of Orellana through the polluted parts of the Coca River, where she verified the cleanup actions underway.

In the city of El Coca, Dager met with representatives of the National Federation of Fishing Cooperatives of Ecuador, FENACOPEC, and assured them that cleanup and remediation actions are being monitored so that they are fully carried out.

“We have had results, a quick response from the company to remedy. It was a strong spill but we have acted with caution, as soon as possible,” said a representative of the FENACOPEC Board.

Bianca Dager is Ecuador’s vice minister of the environment (Photo courtesy MIT REAP)

Vice Minister Dager said, “We will not give up until everything is remedied. Our team reported the emergency and has remained on site. We have personnel at all monitoring points and ensuring that the containment and extraction of crude oil is carried out with agility, but it is also important that the communities allow these tasks.”

Personnel from the Technical Offices in the area remain in constant communication with the companies contracted by OCP for the survey of the baseline and monitoring of the water, soil and biotic components, guaranteeing that the processes are carried out in accordance with environmental regulations. A daily information report about the spill and progress on cleanup is sent to the National Assembly , Dager said.

To prevent the spilled oil from spreading further into Amazon waterways, the placement of barriers has been requested at the mouths and arms of the rivers that connect to the Napo River, especially in the Yasuni National Park.

A tributary of the Amazon River, the Napo has its source in Ecuador on the flanks of three east Andean volcanoes. From the north it is joined by the now-polluted Coca River, which has its sources in the gorges of the Cayambe volcano.

Oil Drillers Penetrate Close to Uncontacted Tribes

Some 250 km (155 miles) away, Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park, in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon, is one of the most biodiverse places in the world with its unique location at the intersection of the Amazon, Andes Mountains, and the equator, says Dr. Matt Finer.

After years of work in the Amazon, Dr. Finer now is Director of MAAP, the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project, featuring updated maps and graphics based on the latest satellite imagery. in an effort to protect the western Amazon, that he calls “the greatest wild forest on Earth.”

Map showing Yasuni National Park, indigenous territory and the ITT Block now being invaded by oil prospectors. (Map courtesy MAAP Project / Amazon Conservation)

MAAP is a project of the Washington, DC-based nonprofit Amazon Conservation, and its sister organizations Conservación Amazónica-ACCA in Peru, and Conservación Amazónica-ACEAA in Bolivia, whose joint mission is to unite science, innovation, and community.

In a series of previous MAAP reports, Finer said, “We have shown the construction of oil drilling platforms, and associated access roads, in the controversial ITT Block, located in the remote and largely intact northeast sector of Yasuni National Park.”

Yasuni National Park is part of the ancestral territory of the Waorani indigenous peoples. The entire southern portion of Yasuni National Park has been declared an Untouchable Zone (Zona Intangible) to protect the territory of the relatives of the Waorani who live in voluntary isolation.

In a new report, MAAP #150, issued in January, the scientists show the most recent construction within the ITT Block: an oil drilling platform known as Ishpingo B located just 300 meters (328 yards) from the buffer zone of the Zona Intangible.

In MAAP #150, Finer issues an alarm about the future construction of additional oil drilling platforms that would enter the buffer zone and reach the limit of the Zona Intangible itself.

Particularly vulnerable, Yasuni National Park is an area rich in biodiversity that also holds some of the largest oil reserves in Ecuador, a country dependent on oil revenue.

Featured image: The broken pipeline owned by the oil transport company OCP Ecuador spilled crude oil into a protected area of the Ecuadorian Amazon. February 4, 2022 (Photo courtesy Ecuador’s Ministry of Environment)

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