Oil Spills in the Ecuadorian Amazon

The Pastaza province is in the Oriente region of eastern Ecuador. Pastaza reaches from the central Andes to the Peruvian border, almost 12,000 square miles, most of which is dense Amazonian  rainforest. As of 2010, 83,933 people live there.[1]  Before oil development, the small villages were only accessible via helicopter, small plane, or multi-day trek.[2]

In 1964 Texaco (now Chevron) first discovered oil in the Oriente region of the Ecuadorian Amazon, home to indigenous peoples such as the Cofán, Siona, Secoya, Kichwa and Huaorani, and shortly after began drilling and extracting operations in 1967.[3]

From 1967 to 1992, the 25 years in which Texaco was in the country, it contaminated over 30,000 people’s drinking, fishing, cooking, and bathing water by dumping large amounts of waste in their rivers and in unlined, open-air pits. At its peak, Texaco dumped an estimated 4 million gallons per day  into 600-1000  pits, a practice that had long been outlawed in oil-producing states in the United States.[3]

Research done by Judith Kimerling, an environmental and indigenous rights activist and attorney, concludes that since production began in 1972, a cumulative amount of more than 19.3 billion gallons of waste water was dumped.[4] Additionally, an estimated 3.2 million gallons of toxic waste was spilled daily at Texaco’s peak.[4]

As a result of this heavy a pollution, today, “almost 10,000 people in Ecuador face a significant risk of contracting cancer in the coming decades due to Chevron’s refusal to clean up billions of gallons of oil waste dumped there.”[4] Further, according to Dr. Daniel Rourke, an American statistician, this number could grow much larger in years to come as these preliminary estimates have been made assuming that cleanup will begin immediately and will be complete within ten years–a proposition Chevron has steadily rejected.[3]

Clearly, the actions of Texaco have had dramatically devastating health effects on rural communities. But what are effects of the company’s practices? Because the responsibility to keep families healthy lies with women and mothers in rural communities, many indigenous women have begun to speak out against Texaco’s destructive practices which they claim have exploited and abused indigenous lands causing many rural families to suffer. Ena Santi, a representative of the Kichwa of Sarayaku Indigenous People Association, said: “Women are defenders of our own Mother Earth. We produce our own food for our sons and daughters and our husbands. We are the watchers of the Living Forest that lives in the Amazon. We are the mothers that fight every day and night carrying our babies to defend our culture, our language and our traditions.”[5] As Santi states, women produce and defend culture, language, and traditions by ensuring the livelihoods and thus health and sustenance of their communities and, by extension, natural environments.

Echoing the sentiment of Santi, women representatives of the Sapara and Shiwiar Nationalities and the Kichwa Kawsak Sacha and Sarayaku Peoples put out this collective statement: “Women are the main victims [of oil extraction]—their ability to feed their families becomes impaired. There is deterioration of family health and they suffer the division of their communities and other forms of violence.”[6] Through their attacks on the environment via oil drilling and mass contamination, Texaco parallely attacks not only women’s bodies directly, but simultaneously threatens their ability to sustain the health and nourishment of their families and communities.

By using ecofeminism as a frame of analysis, we consider and thus better understand the intersection between environmental crises and gender equality, ultimately identifying the ways in which hegemonic power systematically oppresses both women and the earth in a quest for consumption-based progress. In this case, the quest for oil by big businesses like Texaco is supported by a global, capitalistic model that fails to ascribe value to the natural environment, as witnessed by the indiscriminate tons of toxic waste carelessly dumped in rural communities. Further, this same model that encourages this kind of violence against the environment is responsible for the violence enacted upon women in these same rural communities. Women, as primary caretakers, organizers, and nurturers are responsible not only for themselves and their own health, but that of their families and communities as well. The actions taken by Texaco threaten their ability to sustain family and community not only by physically attacking their bodies but by destroying the lands they depend on for their livelihoods. The recognition that this environmental disaster is intimately linked to women’s ability to sustain their families and communities is incredibly important for informing how activists should organize and what they should target.

 


[1] Statoids. “Cantons of Ecuador.” Statoids. Accessed May 1, 2016.

[2] Lawrence, William. “Ecuadorian Indigenous Peoples Resist Oil Drilling in the Amazon, Jan. 1989 – Sept. 1994.” Global Nonviolent Action Database. January 10, 2010.

[3] Chevron Toxico. “Historic Trial.” Chevron Toxico. Accessed May 1, 2016.

[4] Kimerling, Judith. “Oil, Contact, and Conservation in the Amazon: Indigenous Huaorani, Chevron, and Yasuni.” Colorado Journal of International Environmental Law and Policy 24, no. 1 (2013): 44-115.

[5] Gimenez, Jaime. “Indigenous Women Resist Against Oil in Ecuador: ‘We Are Ready to Die for Our Rainforest.” The Dawn, March 25, 2016.

[6] Arasim, Emily, and Osprey Orielle Lake. “Women of the Amazon Defend Their Homeland Against New Oil Contract on International Women’s Day.” Ecowatch. 2016.

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