By Alexandra Almeida
The population was not informed that oil exploitation causes contamination of water, soil, air, damages biodiversity and causes serious illnesses to residents, as well as loss of crops and death of domestic animals. A clear example of this is the lawsuit that the inhabitants of the Amazon have filed against the Texaco oil company for environmental damage, where it is determined that the damage caused by this company amounts to 27 billion dollars.
With an unprecedented decision, the national government has begun the search for oil fields on the Ecuadorian coast. This process from the beginning has been plagued with irregularities and in some places it has become a serious threat to the population.
A silent Contract ……
Previously inviting to a bid submission process, in December 2008, the company Petroproduccion, a subsidiary of Petroecuador, signed a contract with the Chinese company SINOPEC International Petroleum Service Ecuador S.A. to carry out the 2D Seismic Exploration in the Ecuadorian Coast. The amount of the contract is fifty-six million eight hundred ninety-six thousand dollars. Both the bidding and the signing of this contract were carried out without any publicity, it was not collected by any means of communication.
Environmental Studies. "A quickie"
One of the necessary and prerequisites for the execution of a project of this nature is to have an environmental license granted by the Ministry of the Environment. Thus, prior even to the signing of this contract, Petroproduccion carried out the necessary steps before the environmental authority.
The first step was to request an intersection certificate from the Ministry of the Environment, which was delivered in November 2008. This intersection certificate determines that the project intersects with the National System of Protected Areas, Protective Forests and State Forest Heritage.
According to the current Constitution, Article 407 prohibits the extractive activity of non-renewable resources in protected areas. This means that in places that include the National System of Protected Areas, seismic exploration, which is the first phase of oil exploitation, cannot be carried out.
In the preparation of the Environmental Impact Studies we also have another irregularity. On April 12, 2009, the Ministry of the Environment approved the Terms of Reference for the preparation of the Environmental Impact Studies and Environmental Management Plan for the project. Petroproduccion presents these Environmental Studies on May 22 of the same year. In other words, the company carried out these studies in the record time of 1 month 10 days. It should be clarified that the 2D Seismic Exploration project covers 6 provinces: Esmeraldas, Manabí, Guayas, Santa Elena, El Oro and Los Ríos and that to carry out these studies it is necessary to first have the terms of reference approved and then do field work, data collection, bibliographic research and reporting.
It must be for this reason that the inhabitants of the province of Esmeraldas stated that no one ever approached the area where their properties are located and through which the seismic lines were going to pass to carry out a field study or to carry out a survey of the people.
The Prior Consultation, Neither prior, nor consultation ...
Another requirement that a company must meet before starting a project is what was previously called prior consultation and now, due to a decree issued on April 22, 2008, it is called the Social Participation process. This decree was issued when the New Constitution was being drafted and although its content is completely unconstitutional, the different instances, the Government and the companies continue to use it.
Specifically for this case, on July 28, 2009, the Ministry of the Environment appointed a facilitator to carry out the Social Participation process for the environmental studies of the Seismic project, who delivered the report of the participation process on September 29, 2009. same year, that is to say two months later. Once again in record time it is stated that the participation process has been carried out with the population located in the project area, that is, in the 6 provinces of the Coast.
Once again, the population settled in the area of influence of the project affirms that they were never consulted, nor was any participation process carried out, they state that no one approached to inform them about what was intended to be done in the area, or what the seismic exploration consisted of.
With this, what is stated in article 398 of the current Constitution has been violated "Any decision or state authorization that may affect the environment must be consulted with the community, which will be informed broadly and in a timely manner."
The Environmental license. Fulfilling only one requirement… ..
Once the above “requirements” have been fulfilled, the Ministry of the Environment grants the Environmental License to Petroproduction for 2D Seismic Prospecting in the Ecuadorian Coast on October 1, 2009, which is unconstitutional since the same resolution of the Ministry affirms that the project intersects with Protected Areas where extractive activities are prohibited. The license does not make any special mention of sites declared as Protected Areas, that is, it grants permission for said exploration to be carried out in the entire requested area,
It is important to clarify that the license refers to carrying out the project in the six provinces of the Coast: Esmeraldas, Manabi, Santa Elena, Guayas, El Oro and Los Ríos, however the contracted company proceeded to request passage permits in the province of Santo Domingo de los Tsáchila and in the Puerto Quito Canton of the Pichincha Province, without having the respective authorization for this.
Regarding the environmental impact studies and the participation process, the question remains whether they were actually carried out or not. An audit should be carried out on the department of the Ministry of the Environment that is in charge of analyzing and approving environmental impact studies and the attitude of the Minister of the Environment, who is in charge of issuing the respective environmental license.
All the environmental licenses granted by this instance are published on the website of the Ministry of the Environment, however the license for the 2D Seismic project on the Coast is not found on that page. It would be important to know why?
The execution of the project. Deception after deception… ..
In the Province of Esmeraldas, specifically in the parish of La Unión, the residents of the place denounced that in July 2009, that is, three months before obtaining the environmental license, representatives of the Petroproduccion and SINOPEC companies, approached their properties with the objective of making them sign some sheets that contain requests for permission of passage to the owners of the farms.
In these sheets they were informed that the State company of Petróleos Petroecuador and its subsidiary Petroporductor through SINOPEC International Petroleum Services Ecuador SA are developing seismic exploration programs in the area where their properties are located.
It literally says that: “we proceed to give notice and request permission to pass to make the layout of the seismic line (s) that consists of trails under the environmental parameters and topographic leveling, drilling of source points and recording of seismic information . "
The text adds that once the seismic acquisition has been carried out, a settlement certificate will be signed, it also says “We ask you to sign a copy of this communication as proof that you have accepted the permission of passage and have been duly aware of the initiation of the work "
Obviously, this general and ambiguous information is not enough for the farmers to understand what it means to give the required signature, and although some people did sign, others opposed taking the step. Those who did not sign later received a letter signed by the Asocom coordinator in which he elaborated on the explanation and said “Petroproduccion has planned to carry out a 2D regional seismic survey in a wide sector of the Pacific coastline through the use of technologies that initially allow determining possible sites of interest, where further studies of greater depth and specificity can be carried out. " Then he says that the objective of these works is to open new perspectives that allow the State to know about possible reserves "
The inhabitants of the Coast, unlike those of the Amazon, are not familiar with the terms used by the oil industry or with the activities that it entails or with the impacts it causes. That is why telling them only that the project looks for "sites of interest where later more in-depth studies can be carried out" constitutes a deception to the population since it was concealed from them that seismic prospecting is the first phase of oil exploitation and it is carried out with the purpose of knowing the existence of possible reserves to exploit them, that is, to continue with the following phases and not as the information provided says that it is only to know the possible reserves.
The population was not informed that oil exploitation causes contamination of water, soil, air, damages biodiversity and causes serious diseases to residents, as well as loss of crops and death of domestic animals. A clear example of this is the lawsuit that the inhabitants of the Amazon have filed against the Texaco oil company for environmental damage, where it is determined that the damage caused by this company amounts to 27 billion dollars.
Specifically in the seismic exploration phase, at no time did the company disclose the impacts of this phase, such as: deforestation, erosion, noise, destabilization of soils that can cause plugging of water springs, pollution of waters with the waste from the camps and the residues of the explosives and the death of fish when the detonations occur near bodies of water.
It is clear that it is not about the use of better or worse technology since nowhere in the world is there a clean oil exploitation that does not cause damage. One of the damages it causes is global and is climate change, the consequences of which our country has just experienced at this time with the energy crisis due to the lack of rain in the south.
Burying explosives without warning …….
The most serious irregularity committed in this process is that the company responsible for executing the project did not provide the populations with comprehensive, accurate and timely information on the use of explosives, in this case pentolite, necessary to carry out the seismic prospecting.
The biggest deception consisted in telling the farmers that the drilling they were going to carry out on their land was only to take soil samples and they concealed that they were putting pentolite for subsequent detonations.
In the farms where the company obtained permission to pass, they proceeded to bury the pentolite and in some places they did it at a depth of one and a half meters, when the regulation says that the explosive must be buried at 20 meters, the argument was that it was muddy terrain. This irresponsible act has caused some owners who felt cheated by the company to easily remove the buried pentolite so that the detonations are not carried out on their farms.
Some of these owners turned over the unearthed pentolite to local authorities, but there is no assurance that they all did.
The Right to Resistance… ..
Many residents of the areas of influence of the Seismic project, perhaps by intuition, since they were not sufficiently informed, did not sign the authorizations of passage and strongly reject the realization of the 2D Terrestrial seismic project on their properties. This decision is based on article 98 of the current Constitution, which states: “Individuals and groups may exercise the right to resistance against actions or omissions of the public power or of non-state natural or legal persons that violate or may violate their Constitutional rights and demand the recognition of new rights ”.
It is urgent that the competent authorities in this matter carry out the necessary investigations to punish those responsible for the series of irregularities and violations of the law and rights and in the same way immediately suspend this project for being an attack on food sovereignty and good live that the current Constitution guarantees all Ecuadorian citizens.
Alexandra Almeida - Ecological Action - January 2010