Pipeline Ruptures in Ecuadorian Amazon

An oil spill in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
An oil spill in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Ecuador's Ministry of Environment

A pipeline has ruptured in the Ecuadorian Amazon near the site of a previous oil spill, contaminating waterways in Indigenous territory and threatening wildlife in a protected area.

The spill has impacted almost five acres of a nature reserve in Cayambe-Coca National Park and polluted the Coca River, Deutsche Welle reported. Ecuador’s Environmental Ministry called it a “major” pollution event.

“We see that it’s a high-magnitude spill,” environmentalist Juan Pablo Fajardo said, as Democracy Now reported. “It’s believed that water sources and third parties were affected.”

The spill occurred Friday night when a pipeline operated by OCP Ecuador split in a rockslide following heavy rains, Reuters reported. The group Amazon Frontlines posted images of the incident on social media. 

On Saturday, the company stopped pumping crude through the pipeline.

At first, OCP Ecuador said that the spill took place in an area that was removed from any bodies of water, as Reuters reported at the time. However, Indigenous organization CONFENIAE provided early evidence that this was not the case.

“The impact of the oil spill has reached the Kichwa community of Panduyaku in the province of Sucumbíos,” CONFENIAE said on Twitter Saturday, along with a video showing crude polluting a river.

Another video posted by Amazon Frontlines Saturday also showed river contamination. 

“The river is contaminated. Look. Thousands of liters are being spilled into the river,” the organization quoted a witness as saying. “Thousands and thousands. Thousands and thousands. The Coca River is contaminated. Oh my God.”

In a statement Monday, OCP Ecuador acknowledged river pollution.

“We were successful in containing the majority of oil that flowed from the pipeline,” OCP Ecuador’s Executive President Jorge Vugdelija said, as Reuters reported Monday. “However, we are aware small traces have reached bodies of water, and we are working on it.”

This isn’t the first time that erosion along the Coca River has damaged pipelines in the area. In April 2020, both the OCP Ecuador and the state-owned SOTE pipeline burst because of erosion, causing a major spill in the Coca River.

“Once again we have been polluted and we are fighting about it with OCP,” leader of the Panduyaku community in Ecuador’s Sucumbios province Patricia Vargas told Reuters. “The oil is already coating the banks of the Coca river and we call for immediate action.” 

The Ecuadorian government also said it had brought legal action against OCP Ecuador and asked the company to investigate the spill’s impact.

The spill threatens wildlife in the area, including threatened species like the  military macaw and the Andean condor, as Deutsche Welle reported.

“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,” Ecuador’s Environmental Ministry said, as Deutsche Welle reported. 

Indigenous advocates said the spill was just another example of how fossil fuel extraction harms Ecuadorian communities and wildlife. 

“This is the exact reason why we oppose oil extraction,” Andres Tapia of CONAIE told NBC News. “Spills have become a part of our daily life, and we live with the contamination for decades. The oil industry has only brought us death and destruction… We are calling on the government to halt oil expansion plans and properly clean up this spill and all the others that continue to contaminate our territories and violate our rights.”

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter