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Ecuador: Oil spill impacts Amazon nature reserve

February 1, 2022

Nearly five acres of Ecuador's Cayambe-Coca National Park have been polluted after an oil pipeline burst. The government has vowed legal consequences for the company involved in the disaster.

A photo from Ecuador's Ministry of Environment showing an oil spill in the Amazon region
Ecuador's government has ordered urgent cleanup efforts after the oil spill in the AmazonImage: Ecuador's Ministry of Environment/AFP

An oil spill in eastern Ecuador has affected part of a nature reserve in the Amazon rainforest and polluted a major river, the government said Monday.

Ecuador's Environmental Ministry said nearly two hectares (five acres) of a nature reserve in the Cayambe-Coca National Park were impacted by the spill, which took place along with the Coca River. 

The ministry characterized the spill as a "major" pollution event. 

The spill poses a threat to flora and fauna in the area. Cayambe-Coca is home to several species of threatened animals, such as the military macaw and the Andean condor.

"Our staff are monitoring 210 kilometers (130 miles) of the Coca River and its tributaries and coordinating containment and remediation where traces of hydrocarbon are identified," the ministry added.

The government has dispatched emergency personnel to ensure safe water for the local population.

What caused the oil spill?

A mudslide on Friday amid heavy rains in the eastern Napo province caused a crude oil pipeline to burst, triggering the spill. The pipeline is owned by the private firm OCP Ecuador, with the company saying it halted pumping oil the following day. 

Oil spill endangers Indigenous water supply

OCP Ecuador said Monday it contained the "majority of the oil that flowed from the pipeline."

"However, we are aware small traces have reached bodies of water, and we are working on it," the company's president, Jorge Vugdelija, said in a statement.

The Ecuadorian government, however, has threatened OCP Ecuador with legal consequences for the spill. OCP Ecuador has vowed clean water and aid for affected communities. 

A similar oil spill caused by pipeline ruptures occurred in the Ecuadorian Amazon in April 2020. The pollution devastated local indigenous groups who rely on the Coca River for their water needs.

Ecuador is the latest Latin American country to be hit with an oil spill, after nearly 12,000 barrels of crude were dumped off the Peruvian coast on January 15. The spill happened during rough seas in the aftermath of a major volcanic eruption and resulting tsunami near Tonga across the Pacific Ocean.

The Peruvian government has blamed Spanish firm Repsol for the environmental disaster, which killed wildlife and put fishermen out of work.

wd/rs (AFP, Reuters)