CHIRIACO — A devastating oil spill in the Peruvian Amazon is spreading weeks after it began on January 25th. Lima-based daily El Comercio reports that the spill has affected two Peruvian provinces in the Amazon region, polluting farmland, rivers and forests.
Some 3,000 barrels of oil burst from a pipeline began running through protection barriers designed to prevent such spills after heavy rain led to flooding in early February. The oil has polluted the Chiriaco and Marañón rivers, where many indigenous groups live. Edwin Montenegro, spokesperson for the Regional Organization of Indigenous Peoples in the Peruvian Northern Amazon (Orpian), told El Comercio that locals have been affected by dizziness and vomiting from the pungent odor of the spill.
The catastrophe is attributed to Petroperú, the national oil company, which belatedly sent 300 workers to clean the spill as it spreads further to the province of Loreto, which borders the northern Peruvian province of Amazonas. Officials from the company assert that the spill occurred because the pipeline was located on a wet slope that ruptured when heavy rain caused the land to crumble.
Locals are angry that it has taken weeks for the cleaning effort to take place, especially after the company earlier made public statements arguing that the oil spill had been contained in pools that didn't reach the river, despite the spill's evident spread. In the aftermath of the initial spill, Peruvian Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal told Spanish newspaper El País that the oil company's infrastructure was obsolete and in dire need of an upgrade. The firm will be fined 59 million Peruvian nuevo sols ($16.8 million) for the spill.
Earlier this week the Peruvian government declared a 90-day state of emergency in the region, noting that the spill from the North Peruvian oil pipeline has significantly deteriorated the quality of water for residents of several northern districts.