The Achuar and Talisman Energy
"We have seen with our own eyes how the company has worked here the last 10 years. Now the rivers are polluted, the land polluted, the air polluted, the forest too."Pitiur Unti Saant, leader and elder from Unkum community next to Talisman's operations
The remote Amazon headwaters along the border of Peru and Ecuador are one of the most biodiverse places on earth. This remote region, up to a week's travel by bus, boat and canoe from the capital city of Lima, is home to over 11,000 Achuar indigenous people. As their ancestors have done before them, they hunt, fish, and raise crops in the Corrientes, Pastaza, and Morona river basins.
Today, the Achuar's way of life and survival is threatened by international oil companies exploring and drilling for oil.
The oil fields under eastern Achuar territory, on the Corrientes River, have been drilled for oil since the 1970's, first by US-based Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) and now by Argentina's Pluspetrol. For over three decades Oxy cut costs by dumping 9 billion gallons of ‘produced waters' directly into the rivers instead of re-injecting them. These ‘produced waters' contain highly toxic substances such as barium, lead and arsenic and together with hundreds of ongoing oil spills have destroyed hunting and fishing grounds and left the Achuar with severe health problems.
Adults and local children have tested positive for dangerously high blood-lead levels, and local residents cite countless tales of unexplained diseases, tumors, skin ailments and miscarriages from oil exposure. Fish and local game are not fit for consumption and fraught with contamination, and the soil is also no longer fit to produce agricultural crops on which the Achuar depend for subsistence.
In response, the Achuar have mobilized through peaceful means, forcing Pluspetrol to re-inject ‘produced waters', and filing a class action lawsuit against Occidental Petroleum in the U.S.
To the west of Corrientes, the Pastaza and Morona river basins have until recently remained free of oil drilling. Today, Canadian oil company Talisman Energy is drilling exploratory wells in Block 64 in the middle of the Achuar peoples' ancestral territory, despite steadfast opposition.
Talisman first invested in Block 64 in 2004 with Oxy, and as of 2011 they operate and own 50% of Block 64 and 70% of Block 101. These two blocks cover roughly 4 million acres (1.7 million hectares) of pristine tropical rainforest and overlap the Morona and Pastaza river basins.
Blocks 64 and 101 also affect the Pastaza River Wetland complex, a site acknowledged under the Ramsar Convention as one of the most productive aquatic ecosystems in the Amazon rainforest. The wetlands in the middle of Block 64 are crucial fishing and hunting grounds for hundreds of surrounding indigenous families and drain into Lake Rimachi, the largest lake in the Peruvian Amazon.
Given the Achuar's experience with Oxy and the risks of oil drilling in a crucial watershed in the heart of Achuar territory, the majority of Achuar within Block 64 have adopted a steadfast opposition to any new oil activities on their lands. In 2008 and 2010 Achuar leaders traveled many days from their communities deep in the rainforest to Talisman's Annual General Shareholder Meeting at their headquarters in Calgary, Canada, to demand that Talisman respect the Achuar peoples' rights and immediately withdraw from their ancestral homelands.
"We demand that the Peruvian government immediately annuls the contracts for blocks 64 and 101 and that Talisman immediately withdraws from our territory."Achuar declaration, March 2010
Talisman has justified the continuation of seismic testing and exploratory drilling by saying it is working with the agreement of a handful of communities, which it claims are the only people directly affected by their operations. The Achuar point out that drilling affects key hunting grounds, water resources, and sacred lands important to the well-being of all Achuar communities, and activities must not continue without the consent of all the Achuar people.
The Achuar also accuse the company of fomenting division amongst the Achuar people. They have brought charges against Talisman for transporting a group of armed pro-oil community members to confront protesters at a Talisman drilling platform in May 2009 and nearly provoking a violent conflict.
The Pastaza and Morona river basins have been occupied by the Achuar for many generations. Streams, hunting grounds, old farms, sacred waterfalls and burial sites all tell a story and connect the Achuar with their ancestors. Achuar territory provides everything they need: medicinal plants, roofing palms, blowpipes for hunting, rivers full of fish, and spiritual sites where they search for a vision.
The Peruvian State has recognised Achuar land rights with "Native Community" titles, but these titles only cover a third of ancestral lands.
Over the past six years the Achuar have documented and mapped everything important to them in a vast territory of over 2.5 million acres shared by over 40 Achuar communities.
In May 2010, Amazon Watch supported a delegation of Achuar indigenous leaders who traveled to Calgary to meet directly with Talisman and demand that the company respect the Achuar people and immediately withdraw from their ancestral homeland. The Achuar also attended Talisman's annual shareholder meeting and met with local indigenous, environmental, and human rights solidarity organizations.
In May 2011 Amazon Watch returned to Talisman's AGM carrying with them a clear message from the Achuar that Talisman "respect our decision and not carry out any oil activity in our territory, and that it ceases all planned exploratory activities."
In September 2011 Achuar leaders traveled to Lima to formally petition the government to respect their self-determination, including legal recognition of their ancestral territory, annulment of existing oil blocks and a government guarantee of no future oil drilling in their ancestral lands.
In November 2011 Achuar leader Peas Peas Ayui traveled to Calgary to again challenge Talisman CEO John Manzoni over ongoing operations against the wishes of the Achuar. In December 2011 Catholic priests from the area, Padre Clavijo and Padre Bola, sent an urgent message warning of the conflict and division caused by Talisman's operations.