REPORT-In the Ecuadorian Amazon, young people engage in the fight against oil pollution


* Schoolgirl plaintiffs demand action against flare removal * Case marks latest battleground in years-long legal battle

* Activists encourage young people to enter the oil industry By Anastasia Moloney

When 11-year-old Ecuadorian Leonela Moncayo sees the flames of a gas torch flicker above the jungle canopy near her home in the Amazon rainforest, anger makes her determined to fight the pollution caused by decades of oil drilling. Moncayo lives in the ramshackle tropical town of Lago Agrio, the heart of Ecuador’s oil industry, where young people are calling for a ban on the use of flares to burn the unwanted natural gas that escapes during crude extraction .

“I fear for my future and that of my family,” Moncayo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We live off the land, we are farmers. The water is not drinkable. The Amazon and its riches are being destroyed.”

There are hundreds of gas flares scattered throughout the northeastern Amazon provinces of Orellana, Sucumbios, and Napo, which sit among forested slopes and active volcanoes. For decades, local indigenous people, farming communities, environmental rights activists and lawyers have said flaring causes serious environmental and health damage, contaminating air and water.

White sheets hung out to dry one day are covered in black soot the next, residents said. Flaring wastes energy that could be used if captured instead of burned and releases carbon dioxide as well as methane and soot as a waste gas, which also contributes to global warming.

But as the Ecuadorian government plans to increase oil production, the country’s courts are beginning to recognize the toxic fallout from flaring. In a landmark case against the government filed by Moncayo and eight other schoolgirls, the Sucumbios Provincial Court ruled that the use of flares violated their constitutional right to a healthy environment.

He ordered the Ministry of Energy to eliminate flares near the populated areas of Orellana and Sucumbios within 18 months. Flares in more rural areas can operate until 2030. “RIGHTS OF NATURE”

Yet more than a year later, most flares continue to flash and burn in the rainforest as communities demand the government comply with the decision and provide better access to health care and treatment. ‘potable water. The judges also reviewed Ecuador’s “rights of nature” law for rivers and ecosystems enshrined in its constitution in 2008, and ordered the energy ministry to issue a public apology.

The rare apology was delivered by two young ministry officials at an event last month at a stadium in Lago Agrio where the plaintiffs and a crowd of environmentalists and students had gathered. “I understand your dissatisfaction. We all have families, we all have children,” said Diego Erazo, an energy ministry official.

He said an action plan was underway to eliminate flares in the region, and that state-owned Petroecuador and foreign oil companies “are aware” that they need to use new and cleaner technology to reduce environmental impact. A March report from the Department of Energy details a plan in place to eliminate 342 active flares in the Amazon by 2030.

But the young plaintiffs who have sued the government are increasingly impatient for those responsible to deliver on their promises. “We want the government to comply with the court ruling,” said Jamileth Jurado, 14, another of the girls who filed the complaint.

“We don’t need excuses when our health is at risk. We need the pollution to stop. We need clean air and water.” CANCER FEARS

Data on the links between crude oil production and human health is scanty and inconclusive, but many Lago Agrio residents believe that pollution from the oil industry, including flares, plays a role in many conditions, including cancer. Jurado’s mother, Fanny Silva, 51, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer eight years ago, said she believed her illness was caused by pollution emitted from flares and products chemicals – such as the carcinogen benzene – that seep into the ground and rivers after oil spills.

“We live 500 meters (1,640 feet) in front of a flare. No one is immune to cancer,” said Silva, who has since been given the green light. She, like many cancer patients, had to seek treatment in the capital Quito, a five-hour drive away, due to lack of cancer treatment facilities at the local hospital.

Local people suspect that the health of women and girls is more affected by oil pollution as they spend more time in contact with water washing, cooking and bathing children, environmentalists said. Health surveys conducted in Sucumbios and Orellana between 2018 and 2021 by two environmental groups – the Union of People Affected by Texaco (UDAPT) and Clinica Ambiental – found that women accounted for 72% of reported cancer cases, or 354 in September 2021.

A 2020 review of published research on oil drilling and health issues in the Ecuadorian Amazon said available data indicate that health impacts communities living near oil wells are “plausible and could have been underestimated.” Referring to a 2009 study, the review noted a high incidence of leukemia, particularly in young children, which shows “a possible relationship between leukemia and living near crude oil production activities”.

But Alberto Izzotti, a scientist and cancer prevention expert who co-authored the review, said a lack of hard data meant it could not be concluded that a “causal relationship” existed between cancer and oil production in the region. “There are so many confounding factors like lifestyles, diet, sun exposure, that can influence the correlation between oil pollution and the incidence of certain types of cancer that need to be studied” , said Izzotti, professor of hygiene, preventive medicine and public health. at the medical school of the Italian University of Genoa.

CHEVRON VS LAGO AGRIO Ecuador produces 530,000 barrels of oil per day, with crude representing its main source of export revenue, much of which is pumped from Amazon’s oil fields item/20211204192810-83owk.

Ecuador’s oil boom in the 1970s saw paved roads and pipelines cut through once-pristine jungle on indigenous ancestral lands in one of the world’s most biodiverse hotspots, and the legacy of drilling tanker is visible. There remain thousands of open waste pits of oil residue obscured by the jungle.

For parents of children who have returned to the fight, the 2021 flaring court ruling is a new front in their decades-long legal battle to seek justice for environmental damage caused by state and private oil. . “The fight is against the state because it is the state that grants licenses to oil companies. They exploited what they wanted and then they left,” said activist Donald Moncayo, father of Leonela and leader of the UDAPT group.

“But we live here, it’s our home. Thirty thousand people are directly affected by the contamination and don’t have drinking water, but it’s really the whole planet that is affected,” Moncayo said, standing up. ankle-deep in a copper-tinted cesspool of the rainforest. Residents of Lago Agrio have been fighting in court for years to force US oil company Chevron Corp to pay for water and soil contamination in Ecuador from 1964 to 1992 by Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2001.

In 2011, an Ecuadorian court ordered Chevron to pay $8.65 billion in compensation, but a US court blocked its enforcement several years later and activists are still fighting for oil pollution and pits are properly cleaned. Together with his daughter, Moncayo is training a new generation of leaders to fight oil pollution by organizing workshops for about 200 young people on law and leadership.

Meanwhile, as orange flames roar endlessly across the sky, young environmentalists vow to keep the pressure on. “What is happening here is a crime,” said Leonela Moncayo. “We will continue to fight for future generations.”

(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)


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