Ecuador seeks partner to stop gas flaring as anger rises in Amazon

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Ecuadorian oil company Petroecuador said it was working to shut down gas flares in the Amazon to meet a court-imposed TUSEN, but progress is too slow for nearby communities who allege the flares cause cancer and other diseases.

Last year, a provincial court in the province of Sucumbios ordered Petroecuador and a handful of private operators to shut down hundreds of flares – which burn natural gas emitted during oil production when it does not there is no infrastructure to capture it – in populated areas by March 2023.

Flaring last year released 400 million tonnes of greenhouse gases globally, according to the World Bank, and researchers have warned of health problems ranging from cancer to respiratory diseases associated with the practice .

The state-owned company hopes to find a private partner to invest in the technology needed to capture the 65 million cubic feet of gas emitted daily from the flares, which constantly blaze above the verdant treetops.

Petroecuador said 15 companies have expressed interest, including Promigas SA and Gran Tierra Energy.

“Part of the capture process is trying to phase out the flares gradually and gradually within the time limit set by the court,” Petroecuador projects manager Jaime Garzon told Reuters.

The company aims to start shutting down flares in populated areas from September to meet the TUSEN, Garzon said, and shutting down rural flares within two to three years, well ahead of a TUSEN. of eight years imposed by the court.

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It should be possible to build such a capture infrastructure quickly if the right company wins the tender, former energy minister Fernando Santos told Reuters.

“It’s more of a technical question than a question of investment and if an experienced company wins the tender, they will have no problem,” he said.

Petroecuador already processes some 35 million cubic feet of byproduct gas every day for domestic use or power in its operations, but eventually hopes to process all the gas emitted from its 391 flares, saving $400 million a year.

In April, Ecuador’s energy ministry apologized to communities for delays in extinguishing flares.

Its private operators own some 66 flares, but the majority of this gas is already captured for power generation, according to the Department of Energy.

For the inhabitants of the provinces of Sucumbios and Orellana, change is coming too slowly.

“It will kill us sooner,” said farmer Fanny Tufino, 71, whose coffee crops are just 150 meters (500 feet) from a flare. “It affects our health a lot, for me it affected my vision.”

VIOLATION OF HEALTH RIGHTS

The case that prompted the Sucumbios decision was brought by a group of local girls, who argued that the flaring violated their rights to health and a clean environment.

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“I demand that the president look at the Amazon and turn off the flares,” said Leonela Moncayo, 11, one of the complainants, citing the heat, dry ground, dead plants and incinerated insects near her home.

President Guillermo Lasso did not specifically comment on the flares, but the Energy Ministry said it asked operators to comply with the ruling.

There are limited enforcement tools in such cases, potentially requiring communities to seek new rulings if closures are delayed.

The release of chemicals like benzene during flaring can trigger not only cancer, but also respiratory disease and high blood pressure, said Alejandro Gonzalez, director of environmental engineering at the University of the Americas.

“There is a direct link between inhaling benzene and cancer,” Gonzalez said, adding that children are most affected.

Dozens of countries and oil producers – including the United States, Russia, Ecuador and Germany – have pledged to end routine flaring by 2030.

In Mexico, flaring has accelerated under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, raising fears the country is missing its environmental targets.

The United States, the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, last year announced plans to cut methane emissions, including those from flaring, and sued companies accused of failing to monitor flares.

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Petroecuador says it has already centralized flaring in some fields, instead of having one flare at each well, which will help reduce infrastructure needs. Forty-nine flares are already being dismantled, he added.

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Community lawyer Pablo Fajardo said Petroecuador records previously closed flares as new closures.

“They say they put out three flares that were already off and hope to put out 45 flares, which are also not working, in the rest of the year,” Fajardo said.

The government must ensure that no new oil contracts allow flaring, he added, citing a study that found cancer incidence in areas close to oil operations was more than double the national average.

Reuters could not independently verify the study, and Petroecuador said it did not have data on cancer cases near its operations.

“Nobody knows if in a few years we will have cancer, we are afraid because pollution brings us a lot of diseases,” said Viviana Rojas, 21, whose house, shared with her infant son, backs onto a permanently burning torch. .

“We ask that they be closed immediately.”

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Julia Symmes Cobb and Marguerita Choy)

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