It used to be that people described finding oil on their land as “striking it rich”. However, for Indigenous people in the Amazon living atop possible oil reserves is nothing other than a nightmare. Oil exploration in the regions has caused massive deforestation, dangerous toxins being pumped into the environment and violence.
The money at stake for both oil companies and governments is so vast that human rights and environmental destruction are merely regrettable necessities en route to enormous profits. Yet the indigenous peoples residing on these oil rich lands rarely reap the benefits. Oil extraction has contaminated what were previously some of the most biodiverse areas in the Amazon Basin and has been used as an excuse to push Indigenous communities off of their ancestral lands, made thousands gravely ill and contributed social unrest increased violence throughout the Amazon Basin.
In the earliest years of oil extraction companies frequently disposed of drilling waste directly into rivers or dug giant pits to dump their sludge. These chemicals poisoned waterways and leached into the surrounding area. Because of intense public pressure today these actions are no longer legal but oil drilling is still killing our rainforests. Companies begin the process by exploring a section of the rainforest for oil. Even if they fail to find sufficient oil reserves, just the initial exploration changes the character of the rainforest. Roads are carved out of the forest to transport massive equipment, areas are cleared in order to make way for drilling and oil camps. These newly cleared areas frequently attract illegal loggers and further invasions into previously inaccessible forests.
Once oil extraction begins chemicals are used both to create the oil wells and to move the oil out of the well. Disposing of this waste is dangerous and complicated and many oil companies have been found ignoring proper disposal methods time again. In addition, pipelines and wells can leak, oils spills are frequent, and heavy metals are occasionally spewed into the air throughout the extraction process.
- PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons)
- Potassium Chloride
Did you know it took almost 35 years of Indigenous protests for the Peruvian State to acknowledge that it should try to clean rivers polluted by oil drilling ?
Today, Indigenous communities throughout the Amazon continue to insist their countries respect the right of prior consultation before any oil concessions are given out.
These gas flares are a painful reminder of the consequences of oil drilling in Ecuador.
Oil spills cannot completely avoided.
- Oils spills and accidents can occur in even the best maintained oil fields and pipelines leaching thousands of gallons of crude oil into the waterways.
- Today 70% river water sampled in the Peruvian Amazon exceeds the Country’s limits for lead, and 20% exceeds its cadmium limits.
- Fish and other aquatic animals have increased levels of mercury which affect top predators and humans alike.
- Heavy metals like lead contaminate waterways and the air putting Indigenous communities at risk.
- Skin rashes, chronic headaches, fainting spells, vomiting, chronic diarrhea, headaches are common for those living near oil extraction sites.
- Long term effects of exposure to the toxins released during oil extraction include lung disease, liver and kidney damage, birth defects, brain damage, and miscarriages.
- Drilling causes deforestation as trees are felled to make roads, allow for oil rigs and make room for camps.
- Oil extraction invariably adds toxic chemicals into the rainforest, this is even more common in remote areas where there is frequently is little oversight by the State. Over 20 billion gallons of toxic drilling sludge and 17 million gallons of oil have spilled into Ecuador’s Eastern Amazon region and its waterways.
- Increased oil extraction brings more cO2 into our atmosphere increasing climate change which in turn makes the rainforests more vulnerable to drought and wildfires.