Years of inaction on oil spills takes a toll in Venezuela

By Genesis Carrero and Henry Chirinos

Caracas/Maracaibo, Oct 28 (EFE).- The 68 oil spills registered this year in Venezuela have done untold damage to the Andean nation’s lakes, rivers and coastal waters.

That tally comes from the Political Ecology Observatory (OEP), which points out that the harm caused by spills extends beyond the environment to health, food production and the wider economy.

Venezuela, home to the world’s largest proven reserves of petroleum, was once a global model in terms of dealing with spills, but state-owned oil giant Pdvsa halted reporting on accidents in 2016.

“There is an absence of statistics, which is a violation of something as fundamental as the right to information,” OEP’s Emiliano Teran told EFE.

Eduardo Klein, a researcher in the Environmental Studies Department at Simon Bolivar University, said that the bodies of water most affected by oil spills – the Gulf of Venezuela, Lake Maracaibo and the Orinoco delta – are “chronically ill” as a result.

“The authorities are not reacting as they should react. These accidents are occurring because there is a problem of maintenance, a problem of the capacity of personnel, they don’t have the specialists,” he said.

Pdvsa’s most recent environmental report acknowledged that the company managed to recover only 33 percent of the 182,317 barrels of crude spilled in 2016.

The harmful effects of the spilled fuel are reflected in complaints from fishermen that they can no longer operate, or in the flamingo that died earlier this month after turning up on a beach in Maracaibo covered in oil.

The head of the Municipal Environment Institute in Maracaibo, Jose Angel Perez, said that lack of resources and training prevents local administrations from making up for the neglect of the central government.

Not since 2014 has Pdvsa made an effort to contain oil spills in Lake Maracaibo, according to Perez.

“From the Municipal Environment Institute we raise our voice with the various environmental groups making the respective denunciations and at the same time we make the call for awareness to the oil industry itself to please address that responsibility for those spills,” he said.

“The idea is not to eliminate the petroleum industry,” environmental engineer Gustavo Morillo said, but to make it an “ally” in repairing the damage that accompanies oil production. EFE gcs-hch/dr

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