Pluspetrol's Dismal Environmental Track Record Overlooked as It Wins Sustainability Award

Argentine oil giant Pluspetrol Norte, the E&P firm whose irresponsible extractive activity in the Loreto region of the Peruvian Amazon resulted in Peru declaring three environmental states of emergency this year, has received an award for achievement in sustainable development. Pluspetrol, the largest producer of oil and gas in Peru, was one of six mining, hydrocarbon, and energy sector companies upon which the “2013 Sustainable Development Award,” was bestowed by the National Society of Mining, Oil, and Energy (SNMPE).

President of the SNMPE Eva Arias stated that the awards, granted to SNMPE associated companies, were voted on by a “qualified jury of diverse personalities from the public and private sectors.” The qualified jurors must not have had time to read the second annual report, released in July, by Congress’s Working Group on the Indigenous Situation in the Tigre, Pastaza, Corrientes, and Marañón River basins (Grupo de Trabajo sobre la Situation Indígena de las Cuencas de los Ríos Tigre, Pastaza, Corrientes y Marañón).The report takes Pluspetrol to task for a laundry list of infractions: for the increased number of oil spills in storied oil concessions Lot 192 (formerly 1-AB) and Lot 8, for failing to comply with Pac, or Supplementary Environmental Plans (agreed upon plans for adapting operations to the existing environmental regulations), for failing to meet new environmental quality standards for soil in Lot 192, and for failing to comply with norms established for pipeline integrity. In its section IV, the report notes that Pluspetrol has failed to accept its legal responsibility to remediate 123 impacted sites in Lot 192 that the company itself had identified.

Pluspetrol has been operating Lot 192 since 2000, when it took over from Occidental Petroleum, which had begun extractive activity in the concession in 1971. Pluspetrol acquired operation rights over the neighboring oil block 8 from Petroperu in 1996. Since the 1970s, indigenous people have protested oil activity, appealing to the Peruvian government to address the situation-by and large, to no avail. Finally last year, the leaders of indigenous federations representing communities in four key river basins in Loreto spearheaded a sustained protest that garnered action. The government created a multisectoral commission of environmental experts to investigate contamination.

This year, the National Water Authority (ANA) and DIGESA (The General Directorate of Environmental Health) reported that testing of water and soil in the Pastaza, the Corrientes, and the Tigre River basins revealed levels of lead, mercury, barium, cadmium and TPH (Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons) at levels high enough to warrant the declaration of an environmental state of emergency in each of those river basins.

Pluspetrol was recognized with 2013 Sustainable Development Awards for two projects in particular. This first is called Promoviendo desarrollo: Emprendimiento Comunal Segakiato S.A.C., a project to help “improve the lives of the Segakiato native community” through economic development and the provision of logistical services such as health care clinics. Unfortunately, health care clinics do not protect indigenous people from the serious, sometimes fatal diseases that result from heavy exposure to hydrocarbon related compounds. As long as they are drinking contaminated water, eating contaminated fish, and growing produce in contaminated soil, they will continue to fall ill with serious, life threatening diseases that Pluspetrol’s health care clinics cannot cure. While Pluspetrol refuses to perform adequate remediation and neglects to enure the integrity of their equipment, it devastates the indigenous communities whose land it exploits at a rate that no amount of logistical services or economic training can repair.

Pluspetrol’s other project to receive the sustainability honor was related to the Camisea Gas Project and its plans to eliminate the waste of gas by reinjecting it into drilling wells. However, in concessions 1 AB and 8, Pluspetrol’s practice was to dump production water into rivers and creeks. It wasn’t until 2009, after years of protest by the local communities, that Pluspetrol finally reinjected production waters back into the ground, at which point the company claimed that they’d reinjected 100 percent of their production waters. However, in an inspection carried out in 2011, OSINERGMIN (Peru’s Energy Regulatory Commission) determined that Pluspetrol had performed incorrect injections in Lot 8, upon detecting abnormally high pressure inside the wells. The congressional Working Group’s report notes that in April and May of this year, a technical inspection in Lot 192 by OSINERGMIN uncovered disturbing evidence of negligence: flow lines and pipelines carrying productive waters for reinjection were found to be unprotected, there was no insulation between the pipelines themselves and their H supports, and replaced tubes had not been removed and, in some cases, pipelines were buried underneath others- thus subjected to pressure and prone to rupture. Hopefully, Plupetrol’s practices with reference to the Camisea Gas Project will be more responsible and less destructive.

In its conclusions, the congressional Working Group’s report warns against the “Politics of Invisibilization (or rendering invisible) indigenous peoples and the impacts of oil activity on their territory.” In it’s final assessment, the Working Group states that Pluspetrol has failed to meet the criteria of a responsible social enterprise: it has violated the human rights of indigenous people, it has neglected to offer indigenous communities the opportunity for free, prior, and informed consent about matters affecting them and their ancestral territory (as stipulated in Peru’s Prior Consultation Law), it has failed to strike an equilibrium between its extractive activity and the biodiversity of the forest and quality of life in the communities.

Let us speak up when we see displays that strike a chord of cognitive dissonance, like the National Society of Mining, Oil, and Energy (SNMPE) awarding Pluspetrol a prize for sustainable development. Let us refuse to participate in the Politics of Invisibilization.

Deborah Rivett, Thursday, 19 December 2013

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