Ecuador Scrambles to Contain Oil Spill in Amazon Region

QUITO (Reuters) — Ecuadorean authorities on Thursday were scrambling to limit the environmental impact of a crude oil spill in the country's Amazon region, where pipeline bursts prompted by a landslide this week caused crude to enter the Coca river.

The Energy Ministry said in a Wednesday evening statement that it had placed barriers around the spill in an area home to several indigenous communities and near the source of drinking water for the city of El Coca, with some 45,000 residents.

State-run Petroecuador, which manages the SOTE pipeline, and private Heavy Crude Pipeline (OCP) said they had deployed six teams across several areas to "contain the spill."

Authorities have not yet provided an estimate for how much crude was lost due to the pipeline ruptures.

El Coca had preventatively shifted its water supply to another nearby river, the Payamino, due to the spill and had faced some disruption, said Juan Baez, the city's potable water director. He said normal service would likely be restored by Thursday evening.

"This was big, something like this has never happened," Baez said in a telephone interview.

Holger Gallo, the president of the Panduyaku indigenous group in Sucumbios province, said pollution in the river from the spill was visible to members of his community.

"Indigenous communities feel affected because our livelihoods come from hunting and fishing," Gallo told Reuters. "Our way of life will be seriously affected." 

The government and OCP said they would assist with potable water supply if it became necessary.

Both OCP and Petroecuador said they would begin cleaning the banks of the Quijos and Coca rivers, and were installing temporary pipelines to continue pumping crude until the pipes could be repaired. 

Ecuador produces some 530,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude, the cash-strapped country's main source of export revenue. The government has said the incident will not affect crude exports or domestic fuel supply.

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