Environment

Indigenous peoples sue Ecuador govt, oil firms over spill

On April 7, 2 oil pipelines had spilled 15,000 barrels of crude oil into 2 of Ecuador's most important rivers

 
By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 30 April 2020
Photo: Telmo Ibarburu

Indigenous peoples filed a lawsuit against the Ecuadorian government and private and state oil companies on April 29, 2020, in the wake of one of the country’s biggest oil spills in over a decade.

On April 7, an estimated 15,000 barrels of crude oil gushed into two of the country’s most important rivers following the rupture of two major oil pipelines in Ecuador’s northern Amazon.

The spill has affected over 2,000 indigenous families and left an estimated 120,000 people without access to the river’s fresh water.

The lawsuit was filed in the provincial court of Puerto Francisco de Orellana, in the region of Sucumbios by the Amazonian indigenous organization or CONFENIAE and Kichwa indigenous federation or FCUNAE, national and international human rights organisations, Catholic bishops of two impacted provinces, and affected families.

It names the Ecuadorian Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Resources, Ministry of the Environment, state-owned oil company PetroEcuador, and OCP Ecuador, the private company that owns one of the pipelines and demands urgent environmental remediation, remedies for affected peoples, and repair or relocation of the pipelines to prevent future spills.

The plaintiffs have alleged that the oil spill has violated their constitutional rights to territory, health, information, water and food sovereignty, a clean and ecologically balanced environment, and the rights of nature.

Despite warnings for years from geologists and hydrologists that severe erosion along the Coca river put the pipelines at risk, no action was taken by the government.

In February of this year, scientists visited the river to investigate why the San Rafael waterfall — one of Ecuador's most spectacular falls — had collapsed.

They concluded that a controversial Chinese government-funded hydroelectric dam above the waterfall depleted river currents and accelerated erosion under the ruptured oil pipelines.

The Ecuadorian government has created an emergency committee charged with supervising the application of measures to mitigate environmental impacts caused by the spill and pipeline ruptures.

Indigenous and human rights organisations are denouncing the government’s failure to undertake a proper clean-up effort, provide communities with water and food, and provide timely information about the magnitude or scope of contamination to indigenous communities downriver.

Moreover, indigenous peoples are concerned that the pipelines remain at risk for future spills, and experts are warning that fissures detected in the hydroelectric dam possibly caused by the same land erosion could lead it to burst and trigger yet another disaster of monumental proportions.

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