Ecuador’s private pipeline company OCP is expressing surprise over a pipeline rupture in the country’s Amazon region, despite a well-known history of erosion leading to catastrophic oil spills in the country.
OCP has suspended pumping crude as a preventive measure, reports Reuters, and has started on repairs. A statement released by OCP’s operation manager said the incident, caused by falling rocks, “could not have been foreseen by the oil transporter.”
That’s in spite of an incident in December when erosion caused a shutdown on the 485-kilometre state-owned SOTE pipeline in the same region. Two other pipeline disasters, also brought on by erosion, occurred in April 2020.
On April 7, Mongabay News reports, a “regressive land erosion event” damaged a pipeline owned by OCP. Then on April 14, following alarms raised by local media and Indigenous groups, the state-owned Petroecuador confirmed that “a landslide caused by bad weather had damaged the Shushufindi-Quito fuel pipeline, resulting in a suspension of activities.”
The back-to-back spills led to severe contamination of the Coca River, a poisoning that has profoundly harmed the mostly Indigenous communities whose day-to-day lives have been intertwined with the life of the river for millennia.
Noting that the Coca had suffered two previous oil spills in 2009 and 2013, Mongabay wrote last April that “ there’s uncertainty over whether the river can be revived to even a shadow of its former self.” The land around the Coca River “has become increasingly unstable due to an accelerated rate of soil erosion, raising concerns about the integrity of nearby infrastructure, including a hydropower dam.”
While OCP now says it is “communicating with people living in the area” around the latest spill, Mongabay says the spill on the Coca River remains an ongoing ecological and environmental justice nightmare, with Indigenous groups still fighting for reparations.
“The river is part of our way of life,” Abel Jipa, one of the 27,000 Indigenous Kichwa affected by the spill, told Mongabay. “Fishing on the Coca River is an important aspect of our culture; it is also our livelihood and provides us with food.”