Workers scoop oil out a stream near Chiriaco, in northern Peru, where crude spilled from a pipeline in late January 2016. Photo: Barbara Fraser

By Barbara Fraser and Milton López Tarabochia
26 June 2016

( – A new oil spill from the pipeline that carries crude oil from the northern Peruvian Amazon across the Andes Mountains to the Pacific coast has raised fears of yet more pollution of the water and fish on which indigenous villages and riverside communities depend.

The spill is the third major one since January along the 40-year-old pipeline, where more than 20 have occurred in the past five years, according to government figures.

Villagers reported seeing oil on June 24, but as in the other recent spills, the pipe may have been leaking for days before the oil reached the Marañón River, where local residents noticed and reported it.

The state-run oil company Petroperú, which operates the pipeline, and the government’s Environmental Evaluation and Oversight Office (Organismo de Evaluación y Fiscalización Ambiental, OEFA) reported on June 25 that they had teams at the spill site seeking the cause and evaluating damage. Spokesmen said they did not yet have details of the extent of the spill, which reportedly affected the riverside communities of Bagazán and Angamos.

The incident follows two spills earlier this year, near Chiriaco, in Peru’s northern Amazonas region, and in Mayuriaga, a Wampis community near the Morona River. Petroperú estimated each of those spills at about 1,000 barrels.

In those cases, oil slicks floated down the Chiriaco and Morona rivers to the Marañón, one of the two major tributaries of the Amazon in Peru, affecting water supplies and fishing for at least 30 communities. Two spills in 2014 from the same pipeline fouled water and land in the Kukama communities of Cuninico and San Pedro, in the lower Marañón valley.

In February, OEFA ordered Petroperú to suspend operations and repair or replace deteriorated sections of pipeline. Petroperú missed the deadline for submitting its repair plan to OEFA, and the agency took steps to sanction the company.

The agency currently has three spill-related cases open against Petroperú, which could result in fines totaling more than US$25 million. […]

Fears about the safety of fish and lack of safe drinking water, which have plagued Cuninico since the spill in June 2014, were compounded this month by a report showing high levels of mercury and cadmium in villagers’ urine.

Because the source of the metals is unclear, people whose levels were high are not sure how they can avoid further contamination, although health officials warn against drinking river water and eating certain species of fish. […]

Yara Saldaña leaned on the porch railing of her house, where she also sells bread, a business she started when dozens of employees of Petroperú, the state-run oil company that operates the pipeline arrived to oversee cleanup efforts by several hundred local laborers. […]

“We don’t drink river water any more,” she said. “It gives us diarrhea and stomachaches.”

“At first, I couldn’t get used to it,” she added, nodding toward the buckets of rainwater and wrinkling her nose. “How was I going to drink that? It doesn’t taste the same as river water. But we’ve become accustomed.” [more]

BREAKING: Amazon oil spill puts Peruvian communities at risk



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