Peru Declares State of Emergency Over Amazon Oil Pollution

PERU, LIMA

Peru’s government on March 25 declared a 90-day environmental state of emergency in the Amazon region of Loreto due to oil pollution that was not properly cleaned up by Argentine-owned Pluspetrol.

"Pluspetrol took over oil exploration in this zone in 2001, yet we know there is environmental misbehavior by the firm,” the country’s Environment Minister, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, told RPP radio.

“While a rehabilitation program was done at some point, it was not done correctly, and to this was added the inappropriate conduct of the authorities between 2003 and 2005.”

Loreto Region.

Pluspetrol will now be required to clean up oil pollution in the Pastaza River near the Ecuadorian border in the country’s largest nature reserve, Pacaya Samiria.

"We are already drafting an order to initiate work of comprehensive and permanent restoration,” the environment minister said.

Complaints from indigenous groups led the government to investigate. A congressional commission toured the nature reserve last week.

Last November, the indigenous groups filed a legal complaint against the Argentine oil company for pollution in the Marañón River, also within the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve.

The complaint was filed with the Environmental Prosecutor of Nauta by the Cocama Association for Development and Conservation of San Pablo de Tipishca (ACODECOSPAT), one of the base communities in the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP).

The organization said that since 2000, Pluspetrol had been carrying out operations just 17 kilometers from the river, a major contributor to the Amazon watershed.

ACODECOSPAT explained its legal case to other groups at the Commission of Andean, Amazonian, African Descent, Environment and Ecology Congress in Iquitos. At the event, the Quechua Federation of Pastaza presented a series of photographs “revealing irregular activities of Pluspetrol.”

Another indigenous community organization, PUINAMUDT, complained about “systematic similar cases” and demanded “environmental investigations, logging of all polluted sites, application of sanctions and compensation for damages committed.”

Although Pluspetrol has not yet responded to the Peruvian government’s emergency declaration, it did respond to the suit filed by the indigenous groups in November.

It said its activities contribute to the development of the national economy and the areas in which it operates, adding that it paid a total of $20.2 million USD in royalties to the state in October for its activity in the north of the country.

The company’s fiscal contribution in 2012 was projected to be $219.4 million USD.

Pluspetrol also said it applies the highest levels of environmental security in Loreto.

In 2009, a Pluspetrol barge carrying several thousand barrels of oil spilled some 400-500 barrels into the Maranon River.  The company’s immediate response was that it was unsure of the accident's cause, but it had "rapidly contained" the oil and had already begun clean-up measures.

Free