PUNTA CARDON, Venezuela (Reuters) – Rebeca Reyes furiously wiped black tar from her children’s arms after they swam in crude oil-tainted water during a recent outing on the beach at Punta Cardon in Venezuela.
A breach in an underwater pipeline owned by state-owned oil company PDVSA that had gushed for at least 10 days before being sealed was the cause, leaving an oil slick that floated over fishing grounds , coating netting and fouling boat engines before plunging into the shores of Falcon State in western Venezuela.
“We always come here to do something fun, but today we found it,” said Reyes, 42, who was unaware of the spill. “We lost the only entertainment we had left.”
While oil spills in much of the world are widely reported and victims compensated, this is not the case in Venezuela. PDVSA suffers from frequent and, in Falcon’s case, significant leaks and emissions, particularly along the country’s west coast, an area full of aging oil fields, pipelines and refineries.
Political cartoons about world leaders
Neither PDVSA, which has not made the incident public, nor the Venezuelan ministries of oil and eco-socialism responded to requests for comment.
“We have been working on coastal clean-up and remediation plans with PDVSA,” Venezuelan Minister of Eco-socialism, Josue Lorca, told local media earlier this year after another spill in the state by Zulia. “Oil spills are nothing to write home about,” he added.
But spills come at a cost. As Reyes cleaned the oil from his children, so did the fishermen that day, scraping the oil from a shrimp crop in the nearby community of Acorote.
“The oil spill killed our work, our fishing area and the shrimp farms,” said Samuel Ortiz, a fisherman who represents the workers there. “This spill hits us in the stomach, in the pockets.”
The leak affected around 500 fishermen in a dozen communities, said the workers, their nets, their catch of fish and shrimp coated with oil.
Fishermen in Rio Seco, across the bay from Punta Cardon, informed PDVSA of the spill on September 16, according to an internal PDVSA report on the incident. Oil leaked from PDVSA’s Ule-Amuay 2, a 26-inch pipeline that transports crude to the Paraguana refining center.
“This is the first time I’ve seen such a large spill,” said a PDVSA employee involved in the repairs, who declined to be identified for fear of reprisal. “The jet was about two meters high.”
PDVSA was able to completely shut off the flow of oil into the line for inspections and completed repairs on September 27, according to the report, which did not disclose the volume of oil lost.
Venezuela hardly exports any fish, but last year 180,000 tonnes were caught in its rivers and offshore fishing grounds, according to official figures. This compares to an annual average of 514,000 tonnes in 2003-2005, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Most of the decline stems from a trawling ban in 2009, but frequent spills of PDVSA have made conditions worse.
Venezuela does not have the means to compensate those injured by the incidents, a preliminary report from the Venezuelan Observatory for Environmental Policy revealed this year.
Marine biologist Eduardo Klein, who monitors oil spills in Venezuela, estimated the length of the slick near Rio Seco at 65 kilometers (40 miles) based on satellite images. He traveled for days across the coast before being dispersed by the winds. Much of it probably sank, as scoops of oil hit the shore, he said.
A gas leak from a parallel line was also noticed last month by fishermen in Rio Seco, according to sources and a video seen by Reuters.
As of September this year, at least 53 spills have been reported in Venezuela by Klein and the Venezuelan Observatory for Political Ecology, including a large one in June that sent around 3.6 million liters of fuel into the Sea of Caribbean.
More than three-quarters of the total leaks occurred in Falcon and Zulia states.
Up to 50,000 oil leaks and spills were tracked in the country between 2010 and 2016, according to a September report https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/148894/troubled-waters from US National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The oil spill in Lake Maracaibo de Zulia endangered its wildlife, water quality and human health, NASA said.
In Falcon, spills are common in a handful of crude, gas and fuel lines that go to Paraguana, the PDVSA worker said.
“This is the fifth leak at various locations on this undersea line in about a year,” Klein said.
(Reporting by Mircely Guanipa in Punta Cardon, additional reporting by Vivian Sequera, Deisy Buitrago and Marianna Parraga; edited by Gary McWilliams and Steve Orlofsky)
Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.