An indigenous Amazon tribe has filed a lawsuit against state-owned Chinese oil company PetroOriental in Ecuador, accusing it of contaminating their ancestral lands by burning off natural gas from oil wells.
“Our very survival is threatened as a result of climate change.”
“We have seen our way of life altered forever,” the complaint of the community read.
People in the Waorani village of Miwaguno are objecting to the widespread practice of flaring, where oil producers deliberately burn off millions of cubic meters of natural gas produced from oil wells.
Environmentalists say the province of Orellana has a high concentration of oil burners, and the Waorani say the smoke produced is contaminating their land and water sources.
“The rainfall tastes like coal. We still use it because we don’t have drinking water,” said Menare Omene, a 52-year-old Waorani woman.
PetroOriental operates exploration blocks 14 and 17 in Orellana province, which yield about 10,000 barrels of oil per day.
Crude oil is Ecuador’s main source of foreign currency, its 469,000 barrels of oil per day generate about USD $3.35 billion in the year to September.
Ecuador’s Energy Ministry estimated in 2018 that for every barrel of oil produced, about 5 cubic meters of natural gas is burned.
An environmental NGO supporting the Waorani’s case, Accion Ecologica, said that if the flares are extinguished, the gas could be used to generate electricity. That would demand heavy investment in the face of the cheaper option of burning it, it said.
The Waorani are a community of around 5,000 people, owning around 800,000 hectares in the provinces of Napo, Pastaza and Orellana, the latter two bordering Peru.
Ecuadoran law recognizes indigenous jurisdiction over their ancestral territory, but maintains state ownership of the subsoil.