Venezuela’s coastal villages, fisherman suffer as oil spills rise

Photo: Leonardo Fernández Viloria – Reuters

 

Rebeca Reyes furiously scrubbed black tar from her kids’ arms after they swam in waters tainted by crude oil during a recent outing to Venezuela’s Punta Cardon beach.

By Reuters

Oct 6, 2021

A breach in an undersea pipeline owned by state-run 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 nets and fouling boat engines before washing onto the shores of western Venezuela’s Falcon state.

“We always come here to do something fun, but today we found this,” said 42-year-old Reyes, who had not known of the spill. “We have lost the only entertainment we had left.”

While oil spills in much of the world are widely reported and victims compensated, that is not the case in Venezuela. PDVSA suffers frequent and, in the case of Falcon, large leaks and emissions, especially along the nation’s Western coast, a region full of aging oilfields, pipelines and refineries.

Neither PDVSA, which has not made the incident public, nor Venezuela’s oil and eco-socialism ministries responded to requests for comment.

“We have been working on cleaning and remediation plans at the coast along with PDVSA,” Venezuela’s minister for eco-socialism, Josue Lorca, told local media earlier this year after a separate spill in Zulia state. “Oil spills are nothing out of the world,” he added.

BLOW TO FISHING

But the spills do come at a cost. As Reyes cleaned oil off her kids, so too were fishermen that day scraping oil from a harvest of shrimp in the nearby Acorote community.

“The oil spill has killed our job, our fishing ground and the shrimp farms,” said Samuel Ortiz, a fisherman who represents workers there. “This spill is punching us on the stomach, on the pockets.”

The leak affected about 500 fishermen in some 10 communities, the workers said, their nets, fish and shrimp catches coated with oil.

Fishermen in Rio Seco, across the bay from Punta Cardon, notified PDVSA about the spill on Sept. 16, according to a PDVSA internal report of the incident. The 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 see a spill this big,” said a worker for PDVSA involved in the repairs, who declined to be identified for fear of retaliation. “The jet was about 2 meters high.”

PDVSA was able to completely stop the oil flow through the line for inspections and finished making repairs on Sept. 27, according to the report, which did not disclose the volume of oil lost.

FISHING DECLINE

Venezuela barely exports fish, but last year 180,000 tonnes were caught from its rivers and offshore fishing grounds, according to official figures. That compares with an annual average of 514,000 tonnes in 2003-2005, according to United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The bulk of the decline comes from a 2009 prohibition on trawling, but frequent PDVSA spills have worsened conditions.

Venezuela lacks a means to compensate those hurt by the incidents, a preliminary report by Venezuela’s Observatory of Ecologist Policy found this year.

Read More: Reuters – Venezuela’s coastal villages, fisherman suffer as oil spills rise

La Patilla in English