Bare 1 oil spill shows why it’s hard to write about Venezuela (corrected)

My pal Joel at a “fosa,” or produced water disposal pond, in Anzoategui. Click for full size. We were shown this pond by a guy who lives about 200 meters away and grows taro and yuca — root vegetables — in that soil. And cooks with wood, because without a car, it’s very hard to get gas canisters out to his rural hut.

(Typo corrected in paragraph 5, thanks to reader TC.)

I wrote a little note about the Bare oil spill in Venezuela the other day.

Coverage of that spill was then denounced by PDVSA as being manipulated by professional trouble-makers.

Now, the alleged trouble-makers reply.

This whole situation is a great illustration of why reporting on Venezuela is both fun and ridiculous. How much ink needs to be spilled to get to the basic facts of a situation?

Along with Big Lies from both sides, lack of numeracy also makes it harder to cover things like this from a distance. El Tiempo says that the spill affects 500 meters — without saying if those are linear meters of something, or square meters. They also say it affects 20 hectares — which is 200,000 square meters, which would mean that the affected area is about 500 by 400 meters. There is a big difference between 500 square meters and 500 meters square. Anyway here’s the story from today, just because. You’ll soon see why I put that picture up top.

El Tigre.- Residents of the La Peña rural area in Simón Rodríguez municipality denied any connection with the oil spills at Bare 1 y Bare 4.

Land owners and residents of the farming and oil-drilling area in southern Anzoátegui, rejected accusations made by the Faja Petrolífera del Orinoco head Adelso Molero, and by Lorenzo Aguilera, manager of the Ayacucho Division of Petróleos de Venezuela (Pdvsa).

Last Sunday, in a press conference, both executives blamed ranchers for the oil spills and for “propagating a type of guarimba to attack the oil industry and the Hugo Chávez administration.”

They also said the pipeline was cut by a hacksaw and not by lack of maintenance.

They said that after, on Thursday and Friday of last week, a group of residents closing the road to Bare 3 to demand cleanup of impacted areas and the contracting of manpower from the region for the effort.

The neighbors’ spokesman, Julio Evans, described Pdvsa’s position as “ill-intentioned defamations of the population.”

Evans called on the oil executives to demonstrate any pipeline breaks caused by hacksaws.

They also called on the environmental crimes prosecutor to clear up the situation. “As residents we can’t let our reputation be attacked.”

In Evans’ judgment, the two oil managers got it wrong by calling La Peña residents saboteurs.

“Here are patriotic people and we’re not going against our oil company… The ones sabotaging are those inefficient gentlemen at Pdvsa.”

He emphasized he would take the case to the final consequences.

To disprove the thesis that the pipes were hacksawed, a group of residents showed the ditches that Pdvsa had opened in search of the leak.

In those, the tube can be seen, between two and three meters underground. “How are we going to tunnel down that much in order to break something? We couldn’t do that if we were moles,” they said.

They also toured areas destroyed by the crude and said it shows that it comes from the collapse of oil disposal ponds.

What can be seen in the zone was machinery and Pdvsa personnel conducting cleanup operations in the area impacted by the leak in the El Cardumen ranch.

Isneida Henríquez, a resident of La Aventazón 2 and neighbor of La Peña, said that even Pdvsa itself didn’t know where the leak came from.

“Machinery goes by and the oil keeps bubbling up. If it’s sabotage, they did it to themselves,” she said.

The neighborhood representative said that when the owner of the El Cardumen ranch reported the leak, Pdvsa didn’t pay attention.

“Now that we’re blocking the road, they say it’s to demand jobs, but that’s not the case. Let them show where the tubes were hacksawed. We’re not criminals. Let them show their face. We don’t like what they’re saying in the press,” Henriquez said.

Three teams of four local workers each will be contracted to reinforce the cleanup efforts in the oil spills that happened in Bare 1 and Bare 4 on June 5, according to the oil company. Yesterday, the workers were given medical tests. Pdvsa says that only 10 barrels were spilled, but nevertheless residents of the rural community doubt that, given the 15 trips that a vacuum truck took to shrink the oil at one of the upwellings. For that, they assume a greater quantity.

Five hundred meters, equivalent to about 20 hectares, of the El Cardumen ranch is the extent affected by the oil overflow, according to the official Pdvsa report. It’s estimated that the oil will be cleaned up in two days, starting Sunday, when the managers spoke. They said road closures slowed the cleanup.

Well, there’s that. One thing I want to add here: This small-city paper in Venezuela writes much better than any newspaper I have found in Chile. Remarkable. I like El Tiempo.

One possibility here, FYI, is that this indeed was a spill from a “fosa,” or disposal pond, in which case there may have only been 10 barrels equivalent of oil, but it would be mixed with hundreds of barrels of water. At the top of this post, you can see what those ponds look like. That one is, in fact, in Anzoategui, just a short distance from Bare.