Tag Archives: environment

Venezuela recastrates environment ministry

stolen without permission from El Universal

Some oil spill in Venezuela. Stolen without permission from El Universal.

Venezuela. One of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. A place with a nasty heavy-oil industry that produces tremendous quantities of water and spills oil into tropical rivers. And now, a place with no environment ministry.

It was bad enough when the ministry was stupid and weak. Now, it’s been “consolidated” with the housing ministry. In a country where nobody except the government builds homes, the housing ministry has its hands full. It won’t dedicate a whole lot of time or money to the environment.

Lagoon overview

Pond of produced water from oil well in Anzoátegui state, Venezuela, with scum of crude oil in foreground. Open to migrating birds, occasionally “cleaned” by burning off crude. My photo.

Meanwhile, in Colombia, the environment ministry has grown a spine and recently sanctioned Pacific Rubiales Energy Corp for improper water disposal in the llanos. (Funny how the Colombian press and the company have failed to report on that, eh? Thanks to Primera Página, the only real independent biz media in Colombia, for the heads-up on that news item.)

Sure, it’s probably about a decade late to the action, but it shows that a government can occasionally restrain the excesses of the oil industry if it wants to. In Venezuela, that won’t be happening.

Wet savannah near Campo Rubiales

Wet savannah near Campo Rubiales, Colombia. My photo.

I eagerly await the condemnation of Amazon Watch, the International Rivers Network, and other protectors of the environment.

Peru calls PetroPeru pres in over oil spill

El Comercio says the president of PetroPerú has to go answer questions before the legislature because his company spilled oil.


The president of the board of Petro-Perú, Pedro Touzett Gianello, was called to answer questions about  the oil spill in the Cuninico, district of Urarinas, in the Loreto region, according to an announcement from the Environmental, Ecological, and Andean, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvian People’s Commission in Congress.

Not exactly a month in the slammer, but better than what we see with most state enterprises, or even private companies, when they pollute. So, good for Perú.

Gosh, Peru may fine state oil company big bux for oil spill

Venezuela and Ecuador, especially, could learn from this. Peru fines Petroperú for spilling oil. Real fines, too — max fine could be over US$50 million.

The Environmental Evaluation and Investigation Organization (OEFA) says it has started an administrative sanction proceeding against Petroperú for the 30 June 2014 oil spill in Segment I of the Oleoducto Norperuano, near where it crosses the Cuninico river, in the Urarinas district, province and region of Loreto.

It says the possible infractions that took place include spilling oil, which can be fined as much as 10,000 tax units, or about 38 million soles ($13.5 million).

The state oil company also may have failed to comply with its environmental management instrument, first by failing to maintain the pipeline, which can be fined as much as 57 million soles ($20.3 million) and second by not having detected and controlled the leak promptly, which can also be fined as much as 57 million soles.

More here, in Spanish.

No wonder the government wants to strip the OEFA of its power.

Another day, another Amazon oil spill

PetroPerú tries its hand at environmental devastation. Environmental Health News writes it up in English:

On the last day of June, Roger Mangía Vega watched an oil slick and a mass of dead fish float past this tiny Kukama Indian community and into the Marañón River, a major tributary of the Amazon.

Community leaders called the emergency number for Petroperu, the state-run operator of the 845-kilometer pipeline that pumps crude oil from the Amazon over the Andes Mountains to a port on Peru’s northern coast.

By late afternoon, Mangía and a handful of his neighbors – contracted by the company and wearing only ordinary clothing – were up to their necks in oily water, searching for a leak in the pipe. Villagers, who depend on fish for subsistence and income, estimated that they had seen between two and seven tons of dead fish floating in lagoons and littering the landscape.

“It was the most horrible thing I’ve seen in my life – the amount of oil, the huge number of dead fish and my Kukama brothers working without the necessary protection,” said Ander Ordóñez Mozombite, an environmental monitor for an indigenous community group called Acodecospat who visited the site a few days later.

Read it all here.

And on July 2, PetroEcuador had a freakishly similar situation. Amazon Watch offers the details: Continue reading

Canada pioneers new kind of oil spill — will Colombia, Venezuela keep up?

Turns out that when you inject high-pressure steam into heavy oil reservoirs underground, you can’t always predict which way the oil will go.

Oil spills at a major oil sands operation in Alberta have been ongoing for at least six weeks and have cast doubts on the safety of underground extraction methods, according to documents obtained by the Star and a government scientist who has been on site.

Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. has been unable to stop an underground oil blowout that has killed numerous animals and contaminated a lake, forest, and muskeg at its operations in Cold Lake, Alta.

The documents indicate that, since cleanup started in May, some 26,000 barrels of bitumen mixed with surface water have been removed, including more than 4,500 barrels of bitumen…

The company says it is effectively managing and cleaning up the spills.

The company’s operations use an “in situ” or underground extraction technology called “cyclic steam stimulation,” which involves injecting thousands of gallons of superhot, high-pressure steam into deep underground reservoirs. This heats and liquefies the hard bitumen and creates cracks through which the bitumen flows and is then pumped to the surface…

“We don’t understand what happened. Nobody really understands how to stop it from leaking, or if they do they haven’t put the measures into place.”

This might explain why Maracaibo has had so many mysterious oil slicks in recent years, when state oil company PDVSA has insisted that its pipelines aren’t leaking. (Here’s one from 2012.) There is a lot of steam injection into fields under the lake.

Also, heavy oil fields in the Colombian llanos (wet plains) are slated for “enhanced recovery” that may at some point include steam injection. I hope this situation in Alberta is taken as a lesson.


Colombia oil industry to become world-class water miner

Colombian oil producers in the Llanos Basin pump far more water than oil. The percentage of water they produce is going to get ever-more dramatic in coming years, as the oil runs lower and what is called “water cut” gets higher. State oil company Ecopetrol, which has some of the biggest llanos oilfields, is now trying all sorts of ways to turn that water into something useful, such as irrigating forage for cattle and irrigating water-hungry lumber trees. They are improving treatment for the water they dump into rivers and they recently built their first injection well.

They are pumping the water into a wet landscape, and the aquifer they are pumping from is so full of water that in decades of oil production in the area, the water pressure has dropped about 1%, according to engineers who briefed me and another reporter in August (yes, took me a while to post this). So this is not one of those cases where the environmental impacts are obvious and horrifying.

Continue reading

Why does anyone care about Keystone XL? Ride a bike.

Some Canadians who get the real issue.

Some Canadians get it.

I honestly don’t get US environmentalists’ decision to make their Line In The Sand against climate change at the Keystone XL pipeline. In an era of $100 a barrel oil, Canada’s oil resources are not going to be left idle, and other countries with dirty but accessible oil aren’t going to sit and wait for cleaner resources to come on stream.

In fact, stopping the pipeline may cause increased carbon emissions. An oil pipeline is about the most energy-efficient transportation method among all commodities. Yes, it’s made to transport dirty Canadian tar sands oil. But if Keystone XL isn’t built, that same filthy oil is most likely going to get shipped to Asia instead, using even more carbon on the way. And the US will buy oil from elsewhere, some of it being the carbon-intensive heavy oil of Venezuela and Colombia. (And every complaint raised here about the tar sands is true in the lawless llanos of South America: carbon-intensive processing; huge water production and little control over water disposal; disputes with indigenous people and other local cultures; pipeline spills.) The US will get that fuel by ship, using more carbon per barrel to import it than if it were carried by pipeline.

The problem isn’t the transportation method of the oil. The problem is the oil. Cars kill everything: they run over people, birds, dogs, butterflies, you name it. Single-occupant cars obstruct social life and increase stress. Cars make mass transit less efficient and get in the way of bicycles. Meanwhile, they devour the bulk of the world’s liquid fuels and convert these long-buried plant molecules into carbon dioxide and smog. The problem, at heart, is cars. (Planes suck too, especially per passenger. My biggest contributions to the greenhouse effect are from my occasional plane trips.)

The story is in the news these days because environmentalists are counting on US President Barack Obama to stop the pipeline, while some are expecting him to let the pipe get built. Personally, I say he stops it. It’s become a cause celebre, and the main beneficiary is a Canadian company. It’s easier to stand up to those supposedly dirty Canucks than to stop the real climate villains in suburbia, those who fire up a one-occupant car every morning to commute to work.

What’s most frustrating about watching this fight from afar is that it is so similar to the drug war. Just as slowing the flow of cocaine from Colombia’s Caribbean coast has done nothing to reduce US drug addiction (the shipments moved to the Pacific, to Venezuela, and to Brazil), slowing the flow of oil from Alberta to Louisiana will do nothing to reduce US car addiction. And just as with the drug war, it’s easier to rant and rave about some foreign threat than to face the fact that the harms are ultimately caused by one’s own friends, clients, neighbors, family members, and self.

If you don’t want a hotter planet, stop driving cars, especially inefficient cars and those with just one or two occupants. Stop building parking lots. Don’t take plane trips, either. Convince the people you know to do the same. And don’t go start with some “we need structural change first.” Structures, such as new transit lines, get built to meet demand. You need to be that demand, rather than blocking the intersection and slowing down the few US bus lines that still exist.

On the other hand, if you want to feel good about yourself without making such a change, go ahead and worry about one pipeline or another. But don’t try and convince yourself you are stopping climate change.

PS: If you have either already made what personal changes you can, or you just prefer to stick to structures rather than personal choices, the infrastructure projects that are most important to halt are parking garages, regional malls, exurban office parks, and regional sprawl more generally. They are what induce driving. (Low-density suburban residential development can also make the list, but as I’ve seen here in Latin America, such development can coexist with good mass transit and a low-carbon lifestyle as long as there are little shops scattered through, neighborhood schools and nearby transit stops. Such things are verboten in the USA.)

What I did on my summer vacation

Lago Ralco, a power reservoir on the upper Bio Bio River in the IX Region-Araucanía, Chile.

Lago Ralco, a power reservoir on the upper Bio Bio River in the IX Region-Araucanía, Chile.

This is one of those dam projects that give hydroelectricity a bad name. The Lago Ralco reservoir flooded thousands of acres of land in an indigenous Mapuche area. To explain, this is an area where only Mapuches can own land, but Endesa, an Italian-owned electric company, was able to come in and flood that land.

The low-lying pastures, homes, schools, gardens, cemeteries, roads, soccer fields — lives, really — were forced out, up onto the steep mountain slopes. The roads are now higher and steeper, making them less reliable in winter. The pastures are gone. Locals have survived by salvaging trees killed by the flooding and selling their valuable hardwoods. But the stock of trees diminishes every year. The death and destruction is especially visible now as the reservoir is at its lowest level since being filled, at least 10 meters and maybe 20 meters below the grey, dead high-water mark.

This project was controversial from when it was proposed in 1990 until it was completed in 2004. There are plenty of indigenous people who say that the electric company hasn’t fulfilled its promises. One of those promises was tourism development, and I can vouch that this article is correct — there is no tourist development on the lake. In fact, getting there and away was one of the more difficult bits of logistics I’ve managed in years of bumming around the Americas. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen well-built, public roads with so little traffic. A four-times-a-week bus reaches one end of the lake, but other than that, you either drive, walk, bike or take a horse. We literally walked all afternoon from the lake to the next town and saw three vehicles in motion.

Some portion of the electrical potential I’m using to write this comes from that dam. Thanks, dam.

You probably didn’t notice I was gone, as I’ve been posting so little. Back to work we go.

Venezuela takes over Loma de Níquel, workers get the shaft

I know, old joke, and it doesn’t work well for an open pit mine. But it’s unfortunately true. Anglo American is now fully out of Venezuela, having sold its coal mine and involuntarily returned its nickel concession.

The Venezuelan state took over operations of the Loma de Níquel mine at midnight Sunday morning, confirming what I reported here a month earlier. The situation was more like my “Imaginary scenario 2,” in which the government has no idea it’s about to be in the nickel business and doesn’t handle the transition very well. Mine manager Carlos Dini, cited in El Universal, says PDVSA is now “operating” the mine, although a worker at the mine says it’s not PDVSA but rather managers left over from Anglo American who are running things. Continue reading

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. Continue reading