Calgary company's drilling plans stir drinking water fears in Peru
People living in Peru are worried that a Calgary company’s plans to start drilling for oil in the Amazon rainforest might threaten the drinking water of hundreds of thousands of people living nearby.
Gran Tierra Energy recently obtained a controlling interest in two oil sites in the Amazon. The company says that its drilling methods are ecologically safe.
However, many people who live near the site say they have already seen oil development from other projects contaminate local rivers.
"There is a risk that this beautiful environment will end up being a residual dumpster," said José Manuyana, who lives in the nearby city of Iquitos.
Just last year, the government declared states of emergency in three nearby river basins (Tigre, Corrientes and Pastaza) based on evidence of soil and water contamination.
A UN mission confirmed the pollution and linked it to a decades-old project operated by Occidental Petroleum - then sold to a company called Pluspetrol in 2000.
Manuyana worries that the Gran Tierra project will pollute the Nanay River, which supplies water to 450,000 Peruvians. The oil sites also overlap two of the country’s natural conservation areas.
Shane O’Leary, Gran Tierra’s CEO, says the project is being designed to minimize impact on the local environment.
He says while other projects may have contaminated waters in Peru, new methods and stronger environmental protections are now in place.
“It's all about the improving the quality of life for the people that live there. And respecting the environment is a crucial part of that.”
“Maybe you could get away with things 20 years ago. But that's just not the case anymore.”
O’Leary says the oil development will create jobs for people in the area. Gran Tierra is now waiting to receive the environmental permits needed to start drilling.
With files from the CBC's Marion Warnica