First Multi-Ministerial Commission to the Pastaza to Test Contamination

(Taken while conducting soil samples near the Pastaza River.  Photo Credit: Stefan Kistler)

The Pastaza river in northern Loreto, Peru, is one of the four large rivers that come together to form the Marañon River, and then ultimately feed into the mighty Amazon. The Pastaza is home to thousands of Indigenous peoples, of which the Quechua form a majority. Last year marked the 40th anniversary of oil activity in the area, as well as the 40 years of contamination that have accompanied it. Pluspetrol Norte SA currently operates in lot 1AB, which they took over from Occidental Petroleum in 2001.

After numerous requests and forty years of waiting, a congress delegation finally visited the region for the first time in July of this year to investigate indigenous claims of environmental contamination from oil activity. This important development was only achieved after the indigenous peoples from the area – Quechua, Achuar, Candoshi, Cocama Cocamilla – united in a peaceful but large mobilization in June.

As a direct consequence of this mobilization and the congressional visit, a multi-ministerial commission, consisting of the Ministry of Health (represented by DIGESA), Ministry of Agriculture (represented b ANA), Ministry of Environment (represented by OEFA) and the Ministry of Energy and Mines (represented by Osinergmin), was sent to take soil and water samples in affected areas.


President of FEDIQUEP Aurelio Chino Dahua sits in anger and disbelief over the environmental disaster he and the delegation witnessed at Shanshacocha. Photo Credit: Stefan Kistler

One such area is the Shanshococha  lake, which serves as a glaring example of the government’s inaction and failure to adequately address the massive dangers that oil exploitation poses to the local people and the environment.

Shanshococha was once a pristine, small lake that fed the creeks that nearby villages relied on for water, but after years of contamination and oil spills, it had become filled with crude oil. When it became clear a few months earlier that a state commission would be visiting, Pluspetrol was quick to start what they call “soil remediation” – in which they mixed crude oil with non-contaminated natural soil from surrounding areas, completely destroying the small lake. Congress was made aware of the contamination and the company’s cover-up on their visit — an environmental and legal disaster that could have been prevented with prompt and concise actions by the state.

Nonetheless, over the last weeks the Ministry commission, in collaboration with FEDIQUEP’s own environmental monitors, are seemingly performing soil and water sampling in a professional and dutiful manner. The results of the investigation should be known by the end of the month. What remains to be seen is whether these soil and water samples will scientifically prove the contamination that those present were able to see, touch and smell, and whether justice will finally reach the Pastaza basin and its peoples.

Stefan Kistler, Wednesday, 07 November 2012

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