Peru: Amazon communities break off negotiations with Maple Energy over six oil spills

Two Shipibo indigenous communites in the Peruvian Amazon have broken off negotiations with Maple Gas Corporation del Peru SRL., over the health and environmental impacts of six oil spills on their territory over the past three years. The move comes just one month after 32 Shipibo were forced to clean up a spill with their bare hands. The July 10 pipeline rupture in Maple Energy’s Oil Block 31-E, 75 miles north of the city of Pucallpa, spilled crude oil into the Río Mashiria, a tributary of the Ucayali. The Shipibo communities of Nuevo Sucre and Canaán de Cachiyacu officially terminated the negotiations on Aug. 11, charging that Maple Gas, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Ireland-based Maple Energy (MPLE) was not acting in good faith.

“Maple has denied the problems with contamination and sickness resulting from their operations on our land and refused our requests for environmental remediation and medical treatment,” said Raúl Tuesta, leader of the Shipibo community of Nuevo Sucre. The two communities had asked Maple Energy to cover the costs of studies to determine the level of contamination and the health problems affecting community members, including children. They also asked the company to pay for potable water and food until the safety of their water resources could be confirmed. The company rejected all three requests.

“The termination of negotiations comes just a month after the death of Luis Saldaña, a resident of Nuevo Sucre who endured severe stomach pain after he was forced by Maple to assist in the cleanup of a Maple oil spill in April 2009 without any protective equipment,” said Accountabiliy Counsel, a California-based organization that is advising the two communities. “Days after his death on July 10, 2011, as Mr. Saldaña was being buried, another Maple oil spill occurred in Nuevo Sucre. Maple again hired men from the community to clean up the spill without protective equipment, training or any warnings of the health impacts of hydrocarbon exposure.”

In a YouTube video taken by an Accountability Counsel attorney one of the 32 men that Maple Energy hired can be seen using a plastic bottle and a bucket to clean up the spill. The man is standing beside a barrier made of nothing more than branches and leaves. More such videos are on Accountability Counsel’s YouTube channel.

“No one has been able to give us an answer as to why Maple directed these men to work directly in the petroleum with bare hands, legs, and feet. We are very worried about what impacts this will have on their health,” said Tuesta. “We are very concerned about the health of the workers cleaning the spill, our children who play and drink from the Mashiria daily, and all the members of our community that survive on this water.”

In fact, the Shipibo only learned about the spill when children who were bathing on the banks of the Mashiria saw oil in the water. Maple Energy didn’t inform local communities that a pipeline had ruptured.

Accountabiliy Counsel says the Shipibo are now “looking to the recently elected government of Ollanta Humala to defend their rights and protect their environment.” The Humala government has agreed to set up a multi-sectoral commission to investigate the spills. Accountability Counsel and the local Federation of Native Communities of the Lower Ucayali (FECONBU) are also continuing with a human rights and environmental complaint that they filed in April 2010 against the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC), which gave Maple Energy $40 million in 2007 to expand its oil operations in the Amazon. (Intercontinental Cry, Aug. 26; La Región, Iquitos, July 16; Amazon Watch, July 13)

See our last posts on Peru and the struggle for the Amazon, and the politics of oils spills in the Amazon and elsewhere.

Please leave a tip or answer the Exit Poll.