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Save the Trees or I’ll Break your Knees: Holding water polluters accountable

On Jan. 28, 2022, 6,300 barrels of oil spilled into the Amazon region of Ecuador, the second oil leak to plague South America in the past two weeks, after nearly 12,000 barrels of crude oil in Peru spilled into the sea on Jan. 15. 

The spill in Ecuador has polluted 21,000 square meters of the Cayambe-Coca nature reserve and flooded into the Coca river, a prominent water source to many riverbank communities, specifically for the over 27,000 Indigenous Kichwa people who live downriver from the spill.

The pipeline company responsible for the spill, Oleoducto de Crudos Pesados (OCP) is facing great backlash from environmental activists worldwide as they claimed that no water had been damaged while more than 60,000 are left to rely on a contaminated water source

This is not the only instance of the OCP’s damage to the environment having devastating consequences. The OCP had to halt the pipeline’s construction earlier this year as it was causing substantial degradation to the Coca river, but it soon picked back up. OCP also took partial responsibility for a massive oil spill in April 2020 into the Coca River, resulting in a pending case in Ecuador’s Constitutional Court as plaintiffs demand remediation.

Oil spills are much more widespread than just South America: On Nov. 9, 2021, an oil spill occurred off the coast of Nigeria following two other oil spills in the region in 2008 and 2009 whose cleanup only occurred in 2017. Countless other oil spills have occurred as well, with 1,431,370 gallons of oil having been spilled since 2000 in 8,354 separate incidents.

The impacts of such spills are detrimental to the ecosystems in which they occur. Aquatic organisms will be smothered by oil alongside their habitats, most intensely affecting organisms closest to the surface of the water such as sea otters. The ingestion of chemicals in oil results in severe digestive issues that often lead to starvation and death.

When one member of an ecosystem is wiped out from an oil spill, the rest of the ecosystem will be negatively affected and the changes which occur are often detrimental.

Chemical leaks into predominant bodies of life are not limited to coastal cities and even impact Athens and other areas in Appalachian Ohio as a result of mining. Due to the unregulated nature of much of the mining that has taken place in Appalachian towns, resulting in destruction of the environment, taking the form of rust-colored streams from acid mine drainage. This does not exclude Athens.

While oil spills have particularly plagued the Amazon region in supposedly “protected” ecosystems, at this point in time, the reality of the situation is that the Ecuadorian economy relies too much on the oil industry to fully do away with the practice. This, however, does not by any means imply that the Ecuadorian government, along with other global organizations aimed at improving conservation efforts, should not hold oil firms accountable, specifically repeat offenders such as OCP Ecuador. The leaking of oil into any sort of habitat, land or aquatic, civilization or not, is the catalyst of yet another environmental crisis.

Meg Diehl is a freshman studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. What are your thoughts? Tell Meg by tweeting her at @irlbug.

Meg Diehl

Assistant Opinion Editor

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