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Green Is The New Black

Four Fresh Oil Spills in Peru, Ecuador, Thailand, Nigeria & We’re Barely 40 Days Into The Year

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peru oil spill green is the new black

You’ve probably come across anxiety-inducing social media clips of locals scrambling to clean up the oil spills in their areas. Unfortunately (and predictably), there hasn’t been enough news about this on mainstream media. How many more oil spills will it take for us to realise that we need to #KeepItInTheGround? Oil companies are brazenly committing ecocide. And not enough people are noticing. 

While local workers are bending over backwards to clean up ridiculously large rivers of oil, the culprits are fleeing and denying any responsibility. Peru’s oil spill has been declared the “worst historical disaster” to hit the country in recent times. (Which hits as a somewhat awkward time for Shell to be announcing its annual profit margins?) Setting things right starts with the acknowledgement of harm: what’s at stake, and what can we do?

OVERLAPPING STATES OF EMERGENCY 

1. 15th January: 90-day environmental emergency declared in Peru

Peru is in the midst of dealing with a 27-mile oil spill off the coast of Callao. On January 15, 12,000 barrels of crude oil spilt into the ocean from a tanker owned by Repsol, a Spanish oil company (the company initially reported 6,000 barrels and are now saying it’s “bigger than previously thought”). We’ve been covering the intersection of environmental crimes and imperialism for some time now, and how much of the Global South is already paying the price of heavy ecological devastation. This latest crime is really another example of that. The coastline of Peru, 1.7 million square meters of soil, has been destroyed, as have the livelihoods of thousands of fishermen and their communities. The spill has caused extensive damage to two protected zones which are home to plant and animal life. Thousands of birds and fish have died and at least 21 beaches in the Lima and Callao region have been contaminated.

Mixed Feelings 

The Peruvian justice system banned the members of the board of directors of Repsol from leaving the country because they’re under investigation for this oil spill—an important act in defending the sovereignty of this country and making sure they’re held accountable (fingers crossed!). They’ve also deployed the ministry of environment in responding immediately to this. Repsol has done everything to avoid the responsibility despite evidence pointing to the fact that they should’ve been repairing the infrastructure of this tanker that they neglected (and they did not have a contingency plan in place). Repsol has said that the timeline that Peru has put forward for the cleanup of the oil spill is too tight, doing everything they can to not take responsibility.

President Pedro Castillo recalled that “[this] is not the first time that Repsol has done this to the country,” and stressed that “it must be taken into account for future dealings that this company has to do with the State.” He also criticised the mainstream media for ignoring one of the largest oil environmental disasters in Peru, because it is the responsibility of a corporate company.

While the government of Castillo has had an impressive response to this (mobilising funds and ministries while demanding Respol for immediate compensation of the damage) it’s still doesn’t take away from the tragedy of this ecological disaster—this is the sea of the country, with a foreign company extracting petroleum from their land, making enormous profits on it, not maintaining its infrastructure, and who is it affecting? Who is cleaning up their mess? The Peruvians.

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2. 25th January: Thailand declares a state of emergency to help clean the coast

About 20 to 50 tons of oil is estimated to have leaked into the beaches in the Gulf of Thailand from an underwater pipeline owned and operated by Thailand-based Star Petroleum Refining. Governor Channa Lamsaeng has declared a state of emergency to help clean up the coast.

The precise volume of oil is yet to be identified and verified to help with assessments of longer-term impacts on human and non-human life but “information about the volume of oil spilt has been inconsistent,” Tara Buakamsri, country director of Greenpeace Thailand says.

Little has changed since the 2013 spill, he continues, and preventative measures are lacking. “They are using the same equipment as nine years ago.”

More than 200 oil spills have occurred in Thailand’s waters over the last century. Environmental groups have called on Thailand’s government to transition the country away from fossil fuels, and on the oil and gas industry to better implement preventative measures to avoid future disasters.

 

3. 29th January: Ecuador

April 2020’s oil spill is still fresh in our memories. And so is Chevron’s 2011 episode in Ecuador, with environmental lawyer Steven Donziger being persecuted rather than Chevron. Now, for the second time in two years, the OCP Ecuador pipeline has ruptured and an oil spill has occurred in the Ecuadorian Amazon on the banks of the Coca River.

27,000 Indigenous Kichwa living downstream on the banks of the river are facing the compound effects of both oil spills. It’s the same politics and preventable grief over and over again. Naomi Klein writes“This is about acknowledging that there is no clean, safe, non-toxic way to run an economy powered by fossil fuels. And there never was.”

 

nigeria oil spill green is the new black

IMAGE: Wreckage of the Trinity Spirit vessel is seen after an explosion and fire broke out at Shebah Exploration & Production Company Ltd (SEPCOL) offshore production site on Wednesday, in Warri, Nigeria February 4, 2022. REUTERS/Tife Owolabi

4. 4th Feb: Nigeria

An oil production vessel with a storage capacity of two million barrels of oil exploded last week, with 10 crew members on board. Apparently, the vessel was “old and badly maintained” prior to the explosion, and major trading firms stopped using it to store crude. (It was not producing oil at the time of the blast as SEPCOL lost its production license in 2019.) Which makes you wonder why the lives of crew members are treated as disposable. Why were ten crew members made to work on a literal timebomb? As of now: three members are alive and at least three are dead. The amount of oil spilled into the sea is still unknown.

Let’s talk more about Nigeria and its oil. Accidents are not uncommon in its oil and gas industry. According to Nigeria’s Ministry of Environment, there have been approximately 5,000 documented cases of oil spillage just in the past six years. Just last year, Nigerians protested against a month-long oil spill that severely affected their fishing communities. Activists described the disaster as the biggest oil spill in the history of oil and gas exploration and exploitation in Nigeria. They continue to suffer the multiplier effect of decades of environmental degradation, which has erased livelihoods.

“We want the world to hear our cry that we are on the verge of extinction,” Allen Jonah, secretary of the Nembe Se Congress, said. “Let the international community not just sit idle to see that whatever is happening will calm down by itself.”

CALL IT WHAT IT IS

According to Oxfam Peru, oil extraction has caused over 100 spills in over 40 indigenous countries in Peru over five years. For each oil spill, the impacts last for years. We can talk numbers at length, aggressively quoting several Oxfam reports that are all pointing to increasing inequality, but after a certain point, statistics aren’t going to lead the movement anywhere. As journalists/readers, we start getting numb to numbers because every year it’s just another whirlwind of them. What we do know is this: oil spills aren’t “accidents” that are “triggered by natural events” or even “necessary evils for the sake of the greater economy”. They are large-scale crimes that fossil fuel capitalism has allowed to persist. It’s important these companies don’t get let off easy because this is not the first time this has happened. It’s important for these companies to be held accountable. It’s important for these disasters to not happen again.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

1. This has been a heavy scoop! Let it radicalise you rather than lead you to despair

Let’s be clear: when we say #KeepItInTheGround, that is not the end of the problem, it’s only the beginning of a just transition where so many communities need to be uplifted to achieve a fair future.

Now’s as good a time as any to join the global climate movement: if getting started feels overwhelming, grab some stationery and a notebook and try out this reflective Climate Action Venn Diagram exercise—map out your strengths, joys and interests and figure out a way to enter the climate space in a way that feels natural and enjoyable. The best part is, nothing is set in stone. You can keep reassessing and returning to this throughout your climate journey.

2. Support frontline Indigenous communities

Earlier this week, Ecuador’s Supreme Court ruled in favour of Indigenous People’s right to decide the future of their lands in the Amazon. This is an incredible win—the ruling provides Indigenous peoples to have the final say on oil, mining and other extractive projects that affect their land. The landmark ruling signals that the nation’s highest court backs the right of Indigenous peoples to be able to protect 23 million acres of their rainforest territories. The ruling is a blow to the ambitions of Ecuador’s president, Guillermo Lasso, who had planned to double oil production and expand mining in coming years.

Continue to show your support by signing the letter from Indigenous communities and follow their work here. The Amazon rainforest is their home. And it must survive.

FEATURED IMAGE: Environmental impact of the Repsol oil spill grows on the Peruvian coast. Photograph: Cristhian Meza/Municipality of Ventanilla HANDOUT/EPA

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