Pipeline rupture prompts call for Amazon oil drilling moratorium

April 14, 2020

Landslide causes pipeline collapse, oil spill; thousands of indigenous communities on Napo, Coca Rivers impacted

QUITO, ECUADOR —  Impacts to Indigenous communities and ecosystems from recent oil pipeline ruptures caused by landslides in the Ecuadorian Amazon has led international environmental organization Stand.earth to call for an immediate moratorium on drilling in the Amazon and international support for an end to drilling in the Amazon.

As part of the Amazon Sacred Headwaters Initiative, Stand.earth works with allied organizations and indigenous federations in Ecuador and Peru to draw global attention and support for protecting this critical region by halting industrial extractivism.

“Oil drilling in the Amazon is poisoning Indigenous peoples and threatening the world’s fresh water and climate stability. We cannot afford to allow the most biodiverse spot on Earth to be destroyed by oil drilling. As a global community, we need to come together to stop this drilling and support a new economic pathway for the Amazon,” said Tzeporah Berman, International Programs Director at Stand.earth.

The landslides that caused the pipeline ruptures have been linked to the disappearance of the San Rafael waterfall, which stopped flowing suddenly in February. Experts have said the phenomenon is likely caused by progressive erosion linked to a nearby dam uptake process that is removing sediments from the river. 

So far, the 4,000 barrel oil spill has impacted the Coca and Napo rivers and over 120 indigenous Kichwa and farming communities in Ecuador. But if containment barriers fail, the oil spill could advance to Peru and end up in the Amazon River. It is estimated that repair efforts will take at least three weeks to complete. 

Indigenous leaders said the oil spill is putting at risk many communities that depend on the river for drinking water and fishing. With indigenous communities working to prevent the spread of COVID and needing to focus on maintaining food and water security, the oil spill couldn’t have come at a worse time.

“With COVID, we were isolated in our communities and in quarantine following the government guidelines. Now, these oil spills put us in danger of starvation. We were fine in our territories until this happened. This has been worse than COVID-19,” said one Indigenous leader who was reached by phone on Tuesday. Stand.earth has kept their name anonymous because of the threats faced by Indigenous peoples for speaking out.

As part of the Amazon Sacred Headwaters Initiative, Stand.earth works with allied organizations and indigenous federations in Ecuador and Peru to draw global attention and support for halting industrial extractivism and protecting the Amazon Sacred Headwater Region. The region spans 74 million acres (30 million hectares) in Ecuador and Peru and is home to half a million indigenous peoples from more than 20 nationalities. 

In a declaration calling for alternative forms of development rooted in ecological stewardship, indigenous leaders from this region have proclaimed that their ancestral territories, one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet, are under immediate threat from oil drilling, mining, and other industrial scale projects and urge governments and investors to act now to halt approvals and financing of new projects. 

In December 2019 at COP 25 in Madrid, the Amazon Sacred Headwaters Initiative coordinated an international press conference and released an in-depth report that captured global attention and spotlights the threats facing this ecological and cultural gem. The report highlights how California, China, and other countries are complicit in its destruction. 

“These and other pipeline ruptures and a toxic legacy of oil company contamination in Ecuador and beyond underscore how oil drilling in the Amazon is unsafe and should be the last place where this kind of industrial extractivism should expand,” said Berman.

Stand.earth is part of a growing chorus of groups working in solidarity with indigenous organizations, federations, and nationalities in the Amazon demanding integrated, effective, and culturally adequate state responses to the COVID-19 crisis.


Media contact: Virginia Cleaveland, Communications Manager, Stand.earth, media@stand.earth, +1 510 858 9902

Interviews available in Spanish and English