A major oil pipeline was cut off in one of the remote communities in the north-eastern Loreto region in Peru which caused over 8,000 barrels of crude oil to spill into the Peruvian Amazon. According to the state oil company Petroperu, members of the indigenous community Mayuriaga in the Morona district sabotaged its Norperuano pipeline by cutting it open and allowing the oil to spill by preventing technicians from repairing it to contain the release.
Beatriz Alva, a manager and spokeperson for Petroperu stated that this act could potentially be an environmental catastrophe. According to Petroperu Company Chief James Atkins, the spill has made its way into the Amazon waterways causing ecological damage that is tremendous and irreversible, telSUR reported.
Petroperu entirely blames the indigenous community for this oil spill as the Norperuano pipeline has a rich history of attacks that have led to oil spill incidents in the area. According to Reuters, more than 20,000 barrels of petroleum have spilled from the pipeline as a result of 15 protest attacks since 2016. In addition to this, around 5,600 barrels were also reported to be released due to corrosion or operative failures based on data from the The Agency for Evaluation and Environmental Enforcement (OEFA).
The Norperuano pipeline is an important asset for Petroperu, as the four-decade old pipeline is extensively used for transporting crude oil from the Amazonian oil fields to the company’s coastal refineries. The state-owned oil company is playing the victim in this situation claiming that the attack on the pipeline had nothing do with the company rather it was an outcome of a protest resulting from alleged irregularities in the recent municipal election results in the district, reports Phys.Org.
Petroperu is calling for legal action following this act of vandalism by the indigenous community also claiming that it had received a threat before the pipeline was severed thereby suspending the pumping of oil. According to Reuters, the company also said that it had already warned the authorities about the threat but the attack couldn’t be prevented.
In a statement, OEFA, Peru’s environmental regulator indicated that it is waiting for the police along with the prosecutors to go the area to verify the damages and determine culpability. Petroperu has every right to retaliate in this manner, as 70% of the damages have come from these types of attacks in the last four years, but there is another side to the story.
In 2016, Peru’s Amazon experienced seven oil spills near the Norperuano pipeline under the control of Petroperu. OEFA reported that the oil spills occurred due to poor pipeline conditions and illegal use after closure.
The oil spills massively affected the indigenous communities by endangering the safety of their food and water in the area. According to Motherboard, in 2016 members of the Mayuriaga community held several Peruvian officials hostage after the government neglected the fact that the oil spills on their land severely polluted their water supply by getting into the Mayuriaga River.
Indigenous communities in Peru’s Amazon primarily rely on the river for food and water and a river cleanup could take a long time affecting their livelihood. Petroperu could be fined as much as $17 million dollars for their exploits, says EcoWatch.
Most of the protest attacks carried out by the Mayuriaga community are a response to the impact of the oil spills caused by Petroperu on their surroundings and has nothing to do with the elections. Indigenous communities, after repeatedly being unheard and tired of the government not holding the company responsible for their actions, are expected to protest and vandalize as they seem to have no other support or resources to get the message through.