Cuninico Oil Spill & Petroperu: Speed Up the Clean-Up!

Last week two scientists from E Tech International, an independent investigation institute who provide grassroots environmental technical support, visited the Kukama community of Cuninico in the  that was affected by a huge oil spill uncovered almost two months ago on the Northern Peruvian Pipeline. From what the scientists could see, an area of at least 4 kilometres is completely covered with crude and oil stains can be seen going at least 2 meters up the tree trunks. This proves that the water level was much higher when the spill occurred. OEFA, the national organization that controls environmental standards in Peru, has started an administrative procedure to sanction the state owned company Petroperu, who is responsible for not complying with the necessary maintenance of the 39 year-old pipeline.

Oil spill remediation efforts Cuninico       Oil spill Cuninico

“The Kukama people are horrified; they traditionally eat fish three times a day, and never pay for it. Now they can choose, either to pay 8 nuevo soles a day for 1 kilo of fresh fish1 from further up river, or to cook fish that smells like oil. It is truly a disaster for them. Life will never be the same again, and they realize this disaster will be part of their struggle for life from now on“, Dr. Diana Papoulias shared with Alianza Arkana, upon returning to Iquitos.”We shared some simple investigation methods with them to detect if fish is healthy or affected. I also want to express my concern on the pink dolphins that I’ve been watching, happily and innocently playing at the mouth of the Cuninicu affluent in the Maranon, waiting for the sick and dizzy fish to swim straight into their mouths. This spill is big and the toxic smell is so strong at the site of the incident, it makes you want to faint right there and then,” she adds.

Oil tank for cleanup Cuninico

About 300 people are involved in the clean-up, removing the oil by hand, using buckets, and pouring it into big pools. Oil that can be salvaged is transported by helicopter to the refinery in San Jose de Saramuro.

“Petroperu is putting in a lot of effort, but the clean-up has to be speeded up, they have to remove the biggest parts of it before the rains come in October. Otherwise this will generate an uncontrollable spread of the contamination,” states Ricardo Segovia from E Tech. “We strongly recommend the use of pumps and not to burry bags with contaminated fish or other materials in the soil. This is creating a long-term source of contamination for soil and groundwater. We also
recommend not using dispersants which make the oil sink to the ground. The water
looks clean, but the oil stays in the sediments
,” says Segovia, referring to clean up strategies presently employed by Petroperu and local citizens.Pluspetrol Oil Spill Lote 8x Pacaya Samiria

“We also visited kilometre 8 of the old oil pipeline in block 8X, which is under the responsibility of private company Pluspetrol Norte, in order to check up on a similarly huge oil spill which occurred last year in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. What really perturbed us is the complete lack of effort to remediate the old oil spill,” continued Segovia, “we saw just two locals who apparently are in charge of the clean up. Does anybody remember this spill?”

We, as citizens of the world, cannot continue to let oil companies act with no environmental oversight and no social responsibility. They are des
troying the one of the most important global climate regulatorz, the Amazon Rainforest. We must ask ourselves what is needed here in Peru as we approach the UNFCCC COP20 Summit on Climate Change in Lima this December. What will it take to set a new course?


1: Equivalent of USD$2.80 for 2.2 Lbs.

Sarah Kerremans

Cuninicu clean up operations

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