Oil spills in northwestern Venezuela: “It has become a routine”

While the oil spill in Mauritius recently found its way into the news, another similar disaster – less publicized but of a very large magnitude – has affected northwestern Venezuela since the end of July. However, this is not an isolated accident, as oil leaks are recurring in the country. In question: the lack of maintenance of the oil installations, the lack of standards for the sector or the lack of qualified personnel.The first information about this oil spill was published on social networks and in the Venezuelan press around 1 August.

Beaches affected by oil spills at Boca de Aroa and Tucacas. Photos published on August 2 by Fundación Azul Ambientalistas, an environmental organization.

But it was not until three days later that the Ministry of Ecosocialism recognized “the presence of hydrocarbons and possible by-products” in the area, indicating that teams had started decontamination and put in place hydrophobic socks to slow down the development of hydrocarbons. On 10 August, Minister Josué Lorca a indicated that more than 15 kilometers of coastline were cleaned.

Device to prevent the evolution of hydrocarbons. Pictures were published on August 12 by an Internet user who visited the affected area.

Among the main sites affected: Morrocoy National Park, known for its paradisiacal beaches and its ecosystem richness, including mangroves, corals and turtles, and the Cuare Wildlife Refuge, which is especially home to many. species of birds (Land of Falcón).

Cleaning of mangroves in Morrocoy National Park. Video published August 11 by an Internet user who visited the affected area.

Mangroves covered with oil in Morrocoy National Park. Pictures published on August 15 by Fundación Azul Ambientalistas.

Satellite images to determine the origin of the oil spill

At present, the government and the state-owned oil company PDVSA have not commented on the origin of the oil spill, its extent or the type of fuel oil spilled. A silence condemned by environmental organizations and the National Assembly, controlled by the opposition.

But for Eduardo Klein, a researcher at Simón Bolívar University, its origins are “without a doubt”. On August 9, he posted on Twitter two satellite images showing the area where the El Palito refinery – controlled by PDVSA – is located in the state of Carabobo: if everything seems normal in the image recorded on July 19, a significant black spot is visible from the refinery from 22 July.

“Satellite images of the El Palito refinery and adjacent areas. The origin of the leak is not in doubt,” wrote Eduardo Klein on August 9. .

Two days later, Eduardo Klein sent another satellite image, recorded on July 26: it again shows a large black mass outside the El Palito refinery.
“Picture of Sunday 26 July: 260 km2 of oil spilled into the sea in front of the El Palito refinery […]”, wrote Eduardo Klein on 11 August.

In addition, a second leak was observed that appeared to be coming from this refinery more than a week ago, according to the satellite image below.
“A second flight is approaching Morrocoy. […] Image Sentinel S2A from Monday, August 10, at 11 a.m., “said Eduardo Klein on August 10.

According to estimates by Eduardo Klein, about 22,000 barrels of oil were spilled from the refinery, a figure quoted by the Venezuelan Society for Ecology and different media. This is more than in Mauritius, where about 1,000 tonnes of fuel oil – equivalent to 7,600 barrels – have escaped from the Japanese ship Wakashio since the end of July.

Eduardo Klein compares the degree of oil spills in Venezuela and Mauritius here.

In addition to satellite images, other elements support the hypothesis that the oil comes from the El Palito refinery. “If we consider the direction of the currents and the area where hydrocarbons have come, it agrees,” said Ausberto Quero, chairman of the environmental commission for the Zulia State Engineers Center, interviewed by the editorial staff. Observers from France 24. In addition, several local media had mentioned leakage of fuel oil from these installations about July 21st, as well as several incidents in recent months: electrical faults, turbine problem, gas leaks and off oil, or explosions.