Five major oil spill events have occurred across the globe between December 20th, 2021, and February 4th, 2022, impacting thousands of livelihoods, protected areas, Indigenous lands, and threatening ecosystems. The fossil fuel industry has been wreaking havoc on the planet for long enough; and as just these last two months have shown, they often leave behind absolute trails of destruction in the Global South while shamelessly boasting of record profits to their rich investors in the Global North. With communities wondering when their livelihood-supporting ecosystems will recover, and if and when they will see any compensation for loss and damage, it’s time for us to demand an end to dirty energy and profiting off the backs of the world’s poorest.

Argentina, 10th December, 2021

An oil pipeline in the Argentinian province of Rio Negro erupts, resulting in the removal of thirty truckloads of contaminated soil from the disaster site. The spill was characterized as ‘the worst disaster of its kind in at least ten years’, prompting to submit a request to the provincial Environment and Climate Secretariat that the incident be investigated as an environmental crime. 

The pipeline is owned by Argentinian company Oleoductos del Valle (Oldelval), and was transporting soil that had been extracted from Neuquen province in Argentina where several other multinational fossil fuel corporations including Shell, Equinor, Total and Wintershall carry out fracking and mining operations.

A recent assessment conducted by the local Environment Secretariat showed that in 2018 alone, at least 934 ‘pollution incidents’ in Neuquen province were caused by oil and gas activities.

A large number of Europe-based fossil fuel companies, including Shell and TotalEnergies, are carrying out fracking in Argentina’s Vaca Muerta. The Vaca Muerta fields are home to the Mapuche Indigenous Peoples, who oppose oil and gas extraction on their lands. While fracking is mostly banned in Europe, these corporations, backed by the financial support of banks including HSBC, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, and BNP Paribas, continue to rake in profits from fossil fuel development in Latin America.

Peru, January 15th, 2022

Peruvian president Pedro Castillo describes this spill as the ‘worst ecological disaster to hit Peru in recent history’. The 11,900 barrels of spilled oil in the Pampilla refinery run by Spanish oil company Repsol sparked calls for compensation for the loss and damage caused: the livelihoods of hundreds of fishing families, and widespread damage to flora and fauna in two protected areas. The incident occurred during the offloading of a tanker near Peru’s capital, Lima. Despite this, a spokesperson from Repsol denied the company should accept responsibility.

An investigation has been opened into Repsol’s involvement in the incident, with Peru’s environment ministry indicating the company could get a fine of up to $34.5 million. A judge has barred four Repsol executives from leaving the country for 18 months while the investigation is underway.

Later in January, a further eight barrels of crude oil were spilled during the clean up process of the previous spill.

Thailand, January 25, 2022

In Thailand’s Rayang Province an oil spill occurred originating from an underwater pipeline owned by Thailand’s Star Petroleum Refining PLC, which is majority-owned by US firm Chevron. Between 20,000 and 50,000 liters of oil reportedly made its way into the ocean, with marine experts signalling the spill could have disastrous impacts for fragile underwater ecosystems and local livelihoods in the nearby Kaho Laem Ya-Koh Samet National Park, 25 kilometers from the spill site.

The exact amount of oil reportedly spilled has been inconsistent, with initial estimations of 400,000 liters minimized to ‘between 20 to 50,000’ in the oil company’s press releases. In 2013, 50,000 liters of crude oil leaked in the same area, killing one-firth of marine life, and taking more than five years for ecosystems to recover.

Ecuador, January 31, 2022 

6,300 barrels of oil spilled into a natural reserve in Puerto Madero Amazon region of Ecuador after heavy rains caused a boulder to fall on an oil pipeline. The oil company OCP has stated that more than 84% of the spilled crude oil has been recovered, yet the oil has made its way into the Coca River which supports many Indigenous communities living in the region as well as wildlife and flora. In 2020, the OCP pipeline as well as Ecuador’s state-owned SOTE pipeline ruptured due to erosion, which also affected the Coca River.

Nigeria, 4th February, 2022

On February 4th, The Trinity Spirit, a floating oil production and storage ship exploded off the Nigerian coast, leaving seven of ten crew members on board missing. The ship has capacity to store two million barrels of crude oil and to process 22,000 barrels per day.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer with the country’s Delta state accounting for the majority of the country’s oil revenue. Last month, community members in Nigeria’s Bayelsa state demanded the government take action when an oil spill impacted communities and ecosystems for more than a month. According to Nigeria’s Ministry of Environment, there have been more than 5,000 documented oil spills in the past six years in Nigeria.

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