The media is calling it an “environmental catastrophe.” Last week roughly 8,000 barrels of crude oil, equivalent to 336,000 gallons, was released into the Peruvian Amazon after a pipeline was purposely cut. The pipeline, owned by the company Petroperu, has been said to have been severed by members of the Mayuriaga indigenous community in the Loreto region, in what Petroperu has deemed an act of “sabotage” in response to recent municipal election results.
"We could face an environmental catastrophe," said Beatriz Alva, a Petroperu manager speaking to channel N Television. Commenting on the obstacles impeding the pipe’s repairs, Alva stated: “The townspeople prevented us from securing the pipe to stop petroleum from spilling from the pipe.”
Though there has been little focus so far on the complex reasons behind the indigenous members’ actions and Mayuriaga community leaders have not yet made any comments, one thing is clear: this isn’t the first time the Norperuano pipeline has experienced a spill. According to OEFA data cited by Reuters, over 20,000 barrels of petroleum have spilled from the pipe in 15 protest attacks in just the last two years, and an additional 5,600 barrels were released from corrosion or operative failures.
The pipeline, which has been around for 40 years, acts as a highway to transport crude oil from the Amazon’s oil fields to Petroperu's refineries on the coast. Following data from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, Peru produced 127,000 barrels of oil per day in 2017. While repairs are underway, Canadian oil company Frontera Energy has stopped production at an oilfield in Loreto, which sits 200 kilometers from the pipeline rupture. The company expects to see losses amount to approximately $200,000 per day.
Acts of vandalism in protest against the pipeline are not uncommon – villagers even threatened one week prior to the actual severing of the pipeline to cut it at that point in time. Though Petroperu has said that the spilled oil has not contaminated water sources in the area, there will undeniably be consequences to the surrounding ecosystems. While repairs are taking place, the company has shut off crude oil from flowing through the pipeline.