An oil spill in eastern Ecuador has reached a protected area in the Amazon rainforest and polluted a river that supplies water to indigenous communities, the Ecuadorian environment ministry said.
Nearly two hectares (five acres) of the protected area of the Kayambe-Coca National Park are polluted, as is the Coca River, one of the largest in the Ecuadorian Amazon, the ministry said in a statement Monday.
The park, with an area of about 400,000 hectares (988,420 acres), is home to a wide variety of animals, including red deer and various amphibians, and has important water reserves.
Heavy rains caused a muddy landslide in the eastern province of Napo on Friday, during which rock hit and broke a pipeline owned by private company OCP Ecuador.
Neither the government nor the OCP Ecuador have quantified the extent of the spill, but environmental authorities describe it as a “major” pollution event.
“Our staff monitors 210 kilometers (130 miles) of the Coca River and its tributaries and coordinates the containment and remediation where traces of hydrocarbons have been identified,” the ministry said.
OCP operator Ecuador said on Saturday that it had stopped pumping crude oil, and said the next day that it had signed a contract with three specialized companies to carry out cleaning and remediation activities.
“We were polluted again and we are fighting this with the OCP,” Patricia Vargas, who heads the Panduyaku indigenous community in Ecuador’s Sucumbios province, told Reuters.
“The oil is already covering the banks of the Coca River and we are calling for immediate action,” she said.
The development comes amid growing concerns that crude oil, illegal logging and other human activities are wreaking havoc on the region’s rainforests, which in turn is harmful to the environment.
Activists are calling on governments to do more to protect endangered wildlife, as well as local communities that rely on land and water resources to survive.
The pipeline spill was also followed by a giant oil spill in Peru earlier this month, with approximately 11,900 barrels of oil seeping into the ocean. Authorities said the “catastrophe” – a volcanic eruption in Tonga – would take weeks to clean up.
Back in Ecuador, since 2020, regressive erosion advancing along the Coca River has created problems for both the private OCP pipeline and the public SOTE pipeline.
In December, both pipelines stopped pumping due to a problem that prompted the government to declare force majeure on most of the country’s export and oil contracts.
OCP pipelines can transport up to 450,000 barrels a day from the Amazon to ports along the country’s Pacific coast, although the company produced only 160,000 barrels between January and November 2021.
In May 2020, a mudslide damaged pipelines, leading to 15,000 barrels of oil polluting three rivers in the Amazon Basin, affecting several riparian communities.
Meanwhile, the government has launched legal and administrative action against OCP Ecuador, the ministry said on Monday, adding that it had asked the company to conduct a detailed investigation to measure the impact of the spill.
Oil was found on the banks of the Coca River, according to communities living in the area. Local organizations and environmental NGOs are also calling for more information about what happened.
“We want to know the number of barrels spilled and what the process of supplying water and food to communities will be,” the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE) said on Twitter.
“It is clear that river water cannot be used or consumed,” the group added.