Quito, Ecuador – Ecuador’s two oil pipeline operators prematurely halted clean-up operations last week, declaring the remediation complete despite evidence of ongoing pollution in both the Coca and Napo rivers – tributaries to the Amazon river. The move by the OCP pipeline consortium, which includes CNPC, Sinopec, Repsol, and others, and the state-run Petroecuador, came as an Ecuadorian lower court judge ruled against thousands of Kichwa Indigenous peoples affected by the massive spill, which dumped an estimated 15,800 barrels (664,000 gallons) of crude oil and other pollutants into Amazon rivers and tributaries.
The companies are now seeking to close the door on the country’s worst spill in the last 15 years by convening public meetings with communities to tout the clean-up despite visible evidence of oil in the river and the deterioration of the health of local communities. The communities plan to appeal the September 1st verdict and pursue all legal options nationally and then internationally, if necessary.
In a letter to affected communities announcing the public presentations of the “clean-up” results scheduled this week, the companies claimed that the April 7th spill was a result of natural events beyond their control and that they responded “immediately,” thus released from all liability. Furthermore, they state that they have carried out adequate repairs, environmental remediation, and provided compensation for those affected. However, The visual evidence of ongoing contamination in the rivers and crops of communities definitively refutes any water testing or analysis of contamination. Reports from the Ministry of the Environment and Water indicate that some areas of the banks of the Napo and Coca Rivers still have oil remnants less than a meter deep in the river sediments. Furthermore, the testimonies of community members warn that there is a significant decrease in catch available for fishing, skin diseases from oil exposure continue, and the cultural impact on spiritual practices linked to the river are affecting the relationship of Indigenous peoples with the land.
Evidence presented by affected communities during the legal proceedings shows that the spill violated basic human rights and the rights of nature as guaranteed in Ecuador’s constitution, and was a result of egregious negligence and absence of foresight on behalf of the companies and the state. The spill has violated the right to water, health, food sovereignty, land, rights of nature, and these violations must not remain unpunished or unresolved.
“These companies, and our own government, are doing everything they can to evade accountability,” said Carlos Jipa, President of the Kichwa federation FCUNAE. “They ignored science, they ignored the warnings, and now we are suffering. We don’t want their justifications. We don’t need to go to a meeting and listen to them tell us the river is the same as before, that it’s okay to bathe in, swim in, fish in, and drink from. I can see with my own eyes that there is still oil in the water. We want action. We want clean rivers.”
The behavior of both OCP and Petroecuador shows that the only interest of the operating companies is to skirt their obligations to those affected, refuse to provide a safe and permanent water source, as well as fail to honor their responsibility to guarantee a comprehensive remediation process of the affected ecosystems. The companies have also used tactics to bully communities into waiving their rights for future redress or remedy. In the letter, the companies made their threat explicit: by not participating in the meeting, communities would not be counted as ‘beneficiaries’ and would be excluded from the government compensation process.
In light of these events, the organizations that make up the Alliance of Organizations for Human Rights, a group of civil society organizations that have supported the case for protection measures brought by communities affected by the spill including FCUNAE, CONFENIAE, Amazon Watch, and Amazon Frontlines, publicly denounce the attempt of the OCP and Petroecuador to end the remediation when contamination is still evident. The Alliance also demands that Oleoducto de Crudos Pesados S.A. (OCP), Petroecuador E.P., and the Ministry of the Environment and Water assume their responsibilities to the affected communities and nature by carrying out a thorough process of remediation and wide-ranging repair of the areas affected by the April 7th spill, based on technical criteria and the implementation of a Comprehensive Remediation and Reparation Plan. Such a process must have the consent and support of the affected communities to fully comply with the restoration of all the violated rights. Also, we demand the suspension of ‘community outreach’ programs announced for “the reestablishment of water resources” until the aforementioned plan is adequately validated and implemented.
We reject that these companies are seeking to legitimize their lack of action through community meetings imposed under duress and as a means to distance themselves from their responsibilities in this environmental and social disaster.
María Espinosa, Lawyer for the Indigenous Plaintiffs from Amazon Frontlines, released this statement:
“The outrageous and deceitful claims from oil companies OCP and Petroecuador regarding their attempts at so-called remediation reinforce what plaintiffs already demonstrated and denounced through their lawsuit: companies are prioritizing corporate interests above the fundamental rights of thousands of Indigenous peoples and deceiving communities about the clean-up of this massive oil spill which contaminated two major Amazon rivers. Despite the overwhelming evidence, the companies are negating their responsibility of a spill that was fully preventable and acting in complicity with the Ministry of the Environment, the very institution charged with environmental protection from the impacts of activities such as oil operations.”
Carlos Mazabanda, Amazon Watch’s Ecuador Field Coordinator, released this statement:
“It is unacceptable that the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment and Water continues to show its role as the defender of the oil companies that have caused environmental and social damage with this spill. This State institution should be advocating for the communities and demanding compliance with the Rights of Nature and to a Healthy Environment by not promoting these socializations and facilitating that those who have polluted renounce their responsibility and their actions go unpunished.”
Additional photos and spokespeople available upon request.