Colombia: protests over ‘catastrophic’ oil spill

A state of emergency has been declared in Barrancabermeja, the oil hub on Colombia’s Río Magdalena, following a rupture on a pipeline delivering crude to the city’s refinery from wells in the municipality’s rural area. The March 2 spill at the Lizama 158 well, run by parastatal Ecopetrol, contaminated local waterways that flow into the Magdalena, and which local campesino communities depend on. The affected area includes habitat for jaguars (listed as “near threatened” by the International Union for the Conservation of Natuire) and manatees (“vulnerable“). March 26 saw a protest outside the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development in Bogotá, demanding acountability in the disaster. Óscar Sampayo, Barrancabermeja organizer for the Fracking-Free Colombia Alliance, called it a “catastrophe of unequaled magnitude” in a long history of oil spills in the area, and said the impacts could last 30 years. The Fiscalía General, Colombia’s attorney general, has opened an investigation to determine if there is criminal liability in the spill.

But April 6 saw a a second spill elsewhere in the same department of Santander—near Ecopetrol’s Campo San Luis oil-field at Carmen de Chucurí municipality outside the departmental capital Bucaramanga, contaminating the Río Cascajales and drawing protests from campesino communities that depend on it. But Ecopetrol initially denied that the crude came from its wells, and has issued to no further statement. Residents of the affected community of Dos Bocas are demanding an investigation be opened here as well. (Prensa Rural, April 19; Colombia Informa, April 16; Contagio Radio, April 15; La FM, April 6; El Tiempo, April 2; Semana, April 1; Contagio Radio, RCN Radio, March 26; Red por la Justicia Ambiental en Colombia, March 26; Contagio Radio, March 22)

Photo: Contagio Radio