Pluspetrol Heavily Fined for Irreparable Environmental Damages in the Peruvian Amazon

Peru’s Agency for Environmental Evaluation and Control (OEFA), imposed a fine of over 20 million Nuevo Soles (approximately $7,2 million USD) on the oil company Pluspetrol Norte SAC for irreparable environmental damage and the intent to “disappear” lake Shanshococha (2,865 m2), located in oil lot 1AB outside of Andoas, in the Pastaza River Basin in the Northern Peruvian Amazon.

A part of the Peruvian Ministry of the Environment, OEFA has imposed the fine based on the following infractions:

1. Contaminating the lake with liquid hydrocarbons;
2. Irrecoverable ecological loss of the lake’s ecosystem for having carried out drainage and removal activities without having an approved environmental management plan in place;
3. Not informing OEFA about the intervention work being done on the lake;
4. Not communicating with OEFA, within 24 hours, about the environmental contamination of the lake.

Moreover, and perhaps even more unprecedented, OEFA ordered as a corrective measure that Pluspetrol create a new lake, or, if not possible, assure in some other way that the environmental and alimentary services this lake used to provide to the indigenous population be re-established.

Much of this recent event needs to be attributed to the work of local indigenous environmental monitors of the Federation of Indigenous Quechua People of the Pastaza (FEDIQUEP). Monitoring and reporting oil spills and contamination within Oil Lot 1AB – which overlaps with their traditional territories – the Quechua monitors reported that the Shanshococha lake was heavily contaminated with crude oil in early 2012.

FEDIQUEP protests oil contamination

FEDIQUEP and its environmental monitors have for years denounced oil contamination in the Pastaza and finally succeeded to get a multisectoral government commission to investigate soils and water in the affected areas. The results, which were released in early 2013, greatly exceeded environmental standards for water and soils, prompting the government to declare a State of Environmental Emergency in March 2013.

Pluspetrol, learning of a governmental commission coming to the area to investigate indigenous claims of contamination, effectually tried to erase evidence through a “cover-up” mission. Pluspetrol referred to this as “soil remediation”. What they did in reality was mix the crude oil with non-contaminated natural soil from surrounding areas, resulting in the complete destruction of this Amazonian lake, leaving behind a much larger deforested patch of bare earth in the rainforest.

Contamination on Pastaza River                                                                              

Pluspetrol was caught in the act of doing this by the very same commission that entered the concession to take samples in October 2012. FEDIQUEP, as well as Alianza Arkana who was accompanying the commission, were able to capture this clandestine activity on film. The Federation later presented this compelling evidence to the governmental bodies and released the material in the public media. The photographs, some of them captured by Alianza Arkana, began circulating widely, providing irrefutable evidence of Pluspetrol’s acts.

DIsappearing a Lake

“While this fine is welcomed and does represent a step in the right direction, whether this will mean real change for the indigenous communities affected by oil contamination remains to be seen“, says Stefan Kistler, coordinator for the Environmental Justice and Human Rights program of Alianza Arkana. “The over 20 million soles are an administrative fine which will go to the Peruvian state. This is, however, why the second aspect of the ruling is interesting, which obliges Pluspetrol to re-establish the environmental service the lake has provided for the local population. Nevertheless, this is a first-instance ruling and and Pluspetrol still has the right to appeal.”

In a similar case, concerning oil Lot 8X, located within the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, Pluspetrol was fined with 30 million Soles by OEFA in December 2012, for not complying with obligations to remediate historically contaminated areas. Pluspetrol have appealed the case and until today has not yet paid that fine. If an appeal is presented, such a case will take a minimum of two years. Execution of this sentence can thus take a long time, not to mention the time it will take to restore the environmental damages done to Shanshococha, if at all possible.

Look out for more reporting by Alianza Arkana on the social and environmental situation of the Quechua people of the Pastaza over the days to come.

Deborah Rivett, Wednesday, 27 November 2013

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