On March 12, an oil well burst into a major river in the municipality of Barrancabermeja, Santander in eastern Colombia. For twenty-two days, it weaved down the Lizama and Sogamoso rivers — until it was finally spotted.
As a result of the environmental disaster, at least 2,400 animals (livestock, fish, birds, and reptiles) have died and hundreds of people remain without food or water. Furthermore, 70 families have also been treated for medical complications (headaches, dizziness, vomiting) related to the spill.
“I have practically nothing to eat. The entire life we had from the (Magdalena) river is now contaminated,” Elkin Cala, a resident of the area, told France24.
Oil began to leak on March 2 and did so for over two weeks. So far, the spill has spread 24 kilometers (15 miles) down the Lizama river and 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) down the Sogamoso river. It is unclear how many barrels of oil spilled into the environment, but reports range from 600 to 24,000.
The Colombian oil company Ecopetrol is responsible for the spill. So far, the reasons that caused the disaster are unknown. Those who have been affected by the spill will be compensated by Ecopetrol due to the company’s inability to update its contingency plan, according to the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development.
In a statement issued on Monday, March 26, the company declared that the situation is under control and that it will do everything in its power to restore the contaminated area.
“We are working 24 hours a day at the different checkpoints in Caño Muerto to ensure the recovery of this water source. We will not spare any effort until we do so,” said Ecopetrol in a Tweet.
It took three weeks for Ecopetrol, the largest oil refinery in Colombia, to respond to scrutiny. Governor Didier Tavera Amado has highlighted this fact several times.
According to Colombia Reports, a criminal investigation has been launched to assess whether or not the company is guilty of neglect. If the Ecopetrol falsely claimed that the spill has been controlled, it could be slapped with strict sanctions, warns the Environment Ministry.
Ecopetrol has installed barriers, dikes, and evacuation pools along the rivers. It is now waiting for a “snubbing unit” to arrive from the US. When in place, it should allow engineers to intervene in high-pressure conditions and cut the flow of hydrocarbons. The process is estimated to take up to two weeks.
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