By Martintxo Mantxo (A Planeta)
The COP 26 in Glasgow was a huge fiasco, and was characterised above all by the large landing of fossil industry. The fiasco continued with the EU’s sad proposal to consider nuclear and gas as «green». Conflicts over fossil fuels in Kazakhstan and the Ukraine are continuing. But it is not only the climate impact, the impact of emissions that cause global warming. There are also many impacts on seas, beaches, rivers, forests, on these ecosystems, on their life, and on the communities that live there and depend on them. Less than two months after the COP 26 in Glasgow, we are struck by images of oil spills on the coast of Peru, in the Amazon, in Ecuador, in Thailand, in the Basque Country, an oil tanker explodes off the coast of Nigeria and new exploitation projects are being proposed in Argentina, foreseeing more of these disasters. Less than two months after that COP, our petro-dependence is once again showing its darkest side, and it also shows us that despite the urgency of that COP and the situation, we are still consuming oil as before and with the worst consequences.
In January, the Repsol spill in Peru took place. Or rather the spills: on 15 and 25 January 2022. Both at its Ventanilla refinery, La Pampilla (see interview with Marc Gavaldà (Repsol Mata) in this web). For those of us who witnessed the Prestige disaster in the Galician coast, it is hard to digest those images, although they were not reproduced here so much either. Such is the power of Repsol and its weight in the economy. Obviously, these activities in other continents also contribute to the Spanish economy. And their cuts in security, operability, etc. also redound. Or I read how in 2015 after another spill (yes, of course, this was not the first one!) perpetrated in 2013 Repsol managed to pay half of what it was fined (133.80 UIT or Added tax Unit of Peru) which also contributes to higher profits. Then the fine corresponded to their lies, reporting 7 barrels were spilled when there were 195. Now again, Repsol lied again, calling the spill «minimal», of seven gallons of oil (approximately 26 litres) with «an extension of 2.5 metres» and that it was «limited and controlled». However, it was more than 3 kilometres of coastline that was contaminated with oil, affecting both the water and beaches, islands, and its marine fauna and flora. The Environmental Evaluation and Control Agency (OEFA) has opened proceedings against Repsol for 31 infractions.
Meanwhile, not far away, in the Peruvian Amazon, the Observatorio Petrolero, linked to the network Amazonian Indigenous Peoples United in Defence of their Territories, used the attention raised by the accident to claim that for 50 years of oil activity, oil spills are constantly occurring in the rainforest, while they are not reported in the media. The last one, which was reported as recently as 23 December, although it lasted for more days, came from one of the many pipelines that transport oil from this area. These organisations and peoples also took the opportunity to denounce the blatant racism in the way they are discriminated against in reporting, because they are indigenous peoples. They highlighted the more than 100 spills in Block 192 alone, belonging to the company Frontera Energy, between 2015 and 2020; or the more than 180 spills in Block 8 alone, belonging to the company Pluspetrol, between 1998 and 2020. In both blocks they estimate more than 400 spills. Also the large spills in the Norperuvian Pipeline of 7,977 barrels of oil in 2014; 1,130 in 2016 and 114 in 2018. Or the more than 7 million barrels of oil production water dumped into rivers and soils between 1974 and 2009.
But also, just then, on 28 January, another oil spill occurred in the Ecuadorian Amazon, from the Heavy Crude Oil Pipeline (OCP): 6,300 barrels of oil. According to Infobae, the spill is believed to have been caused by landslides caused by the construction of a Chinese dam on the Coca River. This spill also affected Kichwa indigenous communities and part of the large environmental reserve Cayambe-Coca National Park. Now it has also reached the Yasuní Park. Not surprisingly, this pipeline, financed among others by BBVA1, was strongly opposed when it was first presented as a project, because accidents like this one were predicted to have drastic effects on areas of great ecological value along its route.
Those of us who have followed Repsol’s nonsense wherever it operates are not surprised. Nor is it surprising to those who experience it on a daily basis, here too, such as the people of Meatzaldea (mining area) in the Basque Country. Here too, the company, through its subsidiary Petronor, subjects the population to heavy pollution, constant gas leaks, flares, explosions, and also to the usual spills (see article in depth by one of the neighbors and activist in Zorrotz) . The latest spill occurred on the Barbadun river on the 17th January, coinciding with the one in Peru. Once again, the company reported having it under control, but they had not even noticed it (despite saying the opposite) and the fact was reported by people who discovered it. It can therefore be deduced that it would have originated much earlier, but above all that, the company does not have the means to monitor or prevent it. Last February, Petronor/Repsol was involved in another spillage of 68 litres of crude oil into the same river, for which it was fined 1,774 euros.
All these spills have gone unnoticed, as has the one in Thailand, due to its remoteness and because our capacity is not sufficient for so many atrocities. But also on 25 January another oil spill occurred in the Gulf of Thailand, involving between 20 and 50 tonnes of oil, also in an underwater hose for loading tankers, owned by Star Petroleum Refining. Again, as in the case of Peru and as denounced by the Amazonian communities, the alarm went off only when the oil was about to affect beaches and tourism. It was then when the government declared a state of emergency. This spill has affected the fragile marine ecosystems of corals and seagrass, as well as the Khao Lam Ya National Park, which is home to a great variety of marine birds and animals. In Thailand, there have also been 240 spills since 1974.
If all these disasters were not enough, the tanker Trinity Spirit exploded off the coast of Nigeria on 2 February. This tanker has the capacity to store about 2 million barrels of oil, but according to the government at the time of the explosion the ship was storing between 50,000 and 60,000 barrels of crude oil. The flare and emissions it emitted were enormous. The ship had 10 crew members, three of whom were found dead and three alive, so the whereabouts of four others are unknown. Criticisms were made that it was old and in poor condition.
Without waking up from the Glasgow fiasco, the Argentine government signed also an agreement with the IMF to pay off its (fraudulent and odious) debt by announcing the exploitation, after exploration, of possible offshore deposits off the coast of Chubut. We have already reported on the popular sentiment against other extractivist proposals in the same province, which last month managed to stop new exploitation attempts. As well as the unease about the disaster of conventional and non-conventional oil exploitation in Neuquén and Río Negro, where this week Mapuches again blocked roads due to non-compliance with agreements. So the new proposal has been met with a massive response from society, in what has been called the Atlanticazo and articulated by the Assembly for a Sea Free of Oil Companies and existing organisations such as the Observatorio Petrolero Sur (OPSur).
The protests were replicated across Argentina on 4 January, and have now been called again for 4 February. As was the case with the prospecting announced in the Canary Islands and off the Basque coast, one of the major risks (in addition to the possibility of releasing huge volumes of oil and gas with the damage that they are constantly reminding us) are the explosions used for drilling, which affect mainly cetaceans. This is why there is so much opposition to oil exploration. As has already happened here, and in view of everything that has happened recently, we hope that they will desist from such nonsense.
We may think that it was all a coincidence, that at the end of January the stars aligned in a certain way that facilitated all these oil disasters, but as the Peruvian Oil Observatory and affected communities in the Amazon show us, this is the daily reality of oil exploitation (or like the continuous spills in Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela… everywhere!).. And in addition to the impacts of oil burning on global warming that we are so concerned about (oil consumption also causes a lot of pollution and serious health problems), oil extraction causes many other problems for ecosystems, communities and vital resources such as land and water. For these there is little possibility of containment or prevention, not even declaring and protecting areas as reserves or parks. We therefore get back that cry of the anti-fossil fuel movement, of Oilwatch, «Leave the oil in the soil, the coal in the hole and the tar sands in the land» (now also added the “gas under the grass”)2.
1BBVA also finances the GSP and Camisea pipelines (Peru), the Bicentenario in Colombia and the Gasyrg in Bolivia, and recently the Gaseoducto los Ramones Sur which passes through eight states in Mexico.