By Katherine Burns
On January 15th an estimated 11,900 barrels of oil were spilled off the coast of Peru. This occurred at Peru’s largest oil refinery, La Pampilla which is owned by Repsol, a Spanish energy company.
This refinery is said to be the largest in Peru and accounts for almost half of the country’s fuel market
The spill has grown far beyond what was originally expected as the company first reported a much smaller leak of approximately 7 gallons, and stated that it was caused by unusual waves that resulted from a volcanic eruption in Tonga.
Image by @gustavoarrue
One month later, it is clear that the spill has devastated surrounding coastal areas, with the impact being especially severe for local fishers, as they have been unable to take their boats out. Repsol has employed some fishermen to be a part of the cleaning process, but many remain unable to work. Some of them have even staged protests. According to a piece from The New York Times by Mitra Taj, conditions are bleak for those whom Repsol has employed. Reports from local news outlets have shared that workers are being compensated very little and are risking their health from breathing unsafe fumes on affected beaches.
Image by @muskn
“Fishermen used to go sell the seafood we collect, but now everything smells like death,” fisherman Walter de la Cruz told Thomson Reuters.
With all fishing activities suspended, local fishermen are looking for answers. Roberto Zamora, a local fisherman in the Ventanilla district affirmed this to The New York Times.
“What we want is respect,” Mr. Zamora said. “And this has been a lack of respect for our ocean. It hasn’t just affected me. It hasn’t just affected fellow fishermen. It’s an offense to the whole world.”
Mr. Zamora’s sentiment is shared by the Peruvian government. All operations at the La Pampilla refinery have temporarily ceased, and an investigation has been opened regarding Repsol’s involvement in the incident. Compensation has been demanded from Repsol as a whole, and according to an article from BBC News, four top executives from the company have been barred from leaving Peru for an 18-month period.
While the investigation into Repsol is ongoing, the environmental impact this has had on the coastline and surrounding waters cannot be overlooked.
A Thomson Reuters piece by Marcelo Rochabrun shares how the impact has persisted in Peru’s protected area, Isla Pescadores.
“Before the spill, the island was home to 160,000 Guanay cormorants, according to Sernanp, as well as a large number of Peruvian boobys and Humboldt penguins. These birds are under threat from the oil, which is most visible on their chests and beaks”
The Natural Service of Protected Areas (SERNANP) has been making regular visits to Isla Pescadores to rescue the oil-covered birds. Sernap has been tasked with surveying Peru’s protected areas. Repsol has shared with Reuters they are working alongside a zoo to provide care for the afflicted animals.
The spill may have occurred a month ago, but the impact has been and will continue to be felt by local fishermen, and protectors of Peru’s wildlife.
Image by @marlonflorest