Florida Gulf Coast University grad student Shauna Stoeger hopes to help Peruvian villagers affected by oil drilling. Photo: Shauna Stoeger

By Drew Sterwald
September 2014

(Pinnacle) – Trees and creek banks stained black with petroleum. Lakes too polluted to fish. Villagers suffering skin and organ ailments associated with contaminated water.

This was just part of the evidence Shauna Stoeger (’14, M.S., Forensic Studies) uncovered when she spent four months in remote Amazonian villages to investigate the effects of oil drilling on local people and their environment. Now she’s hoping to publish the thesis she wrote as an FGCU grad student so she can spread the word and help the people whose lives and way of life may have been tainted by poorly maintained oil pipelines, she says.

“In the long run, I want to start a nonprofit to raise money to bring professionals down to the area for health testing, water and soil testing and healthcare services,” says Stoeger. “I want to do more studies that the people (in Peru) can use to demand change.”

Thomas Mackey, an adjunct instructor in Forensic Studies who advised Stoeger and helped her raise $6,000 for the project, called her research “groundbreaking.”

“A peer journal will jump on publishing this piece,” he says. “Shauna discovered some things and answered some questions and at the same time raised a number of other questions. Good research does that. With increased awareness, our hopes are that the world will recognize the challenges the indigenous peoples of Peru face. Tragically, they lack a voice.”

The issue is just beginning to make headlines outside South America. Last April, about 500 indigenous protesters occupied Peru’s biggest oil field in the Amazon rainforest near Ecuador to demand the clean-up of decades of contamination from spilled crude, according to news reports. Over the past year, the Peruvian government has declared three environmental emergencies in large areas of Amazonian rainforest after finding dangerous levels of pollution.

Peru is the seventh-largest crude oil reserve holder in Central and South America, and much of its oil lies deep in the Amazon region. Since 2003, nearly three-quarters of the Peruvian Amazon has been leased to international oil companies, according to the nonprofit Amazon Watch, which works to protect rainforests and human rights.

Stoeger first saw evidence of environmental damage and community health problems when she traveled to Peru to do research as an undergrad majoring in psychology and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. She returned a year later to work as an interpreter.

“Being there two years in a row, I saw how many issues there are related to oil drilling – environmental issues, human rights abuses, crime,” she says. [more]

An excerpt from Shauna Stoeger’s master’s degree thesis, “Impact on Rural and Indigenous Populations by Oil Corporations in Peruvian Amazon”:

The Peruvian Amazon contains about 10 percent of the world’s biodiversity, making it an important biological zone. It is also home to multitudes of indigenous groups that have traditionally lived harmoniously with the environment. Within the past several decades, oil corporations have started extracting oil in areas overlapping traditionally indigenous lands. Due to this overlap, there have been complaints of environmental and human rights abuses that have gone underreported and under researched.

This research examined the question ‘Do oil companies in the Peruvian Amazon increase environmental and human rights abuses?’ The research found that oil companies do correlate with higher instances of environmental contamination and a significantly changed lifestyle, although further studies would have to be done to determine the source of health issues to further analyze the question of human rights abuses related to oil.

Grad student documents human price of oil in Peru



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