The Academies of Physical, Mathematical and Natural Sciences (Acfiman) and of Engineering and Habitat (ANIH) express their deep concern about the recent oil spills that have affected large areas of the national territory further compromising natural resources, the diversity of our ecosystems, the health of communities and the economic activity of the affected areas.
It is public and notorious that oil spills are no longer the exception in PDVSA’s operational and environmental performance. The increased frequency and extension of these predictable and controllable accidents reflect the continued violation of national and international legislation on oil and the environment. It is an integral part of the national oil industry to take the most rigorous precautions to avoid or minimize the risks associated with waste management and, particularly, the spillage of pollutants from their oil operations.
Evidence presented by researchers from national universities and complaints from NGOs that work in the affected areas indicate that the spill that occurred in the coastal marine environments of the states of Falcón and Carabobo came from the El Palito refinery, which occurred between July 19th and 22nd, 2020 in Golfo Triste and was only attended to by PDVSA 22 days later (August 9th, 2020). To date, the composition of the spilled hydrocarbons and their scope as well as the damage caused to natural resources and human activities in the area of influence of the spill are unknown. The procedure deployed by PDVSA showed the precariousness of the equipment and personnel with little preparation and knowledge to deal with the magnitude of the damage caused.
The spill has affected several Areas under Special Administration Regime (ABRAE) aimed at protection, education, research and recreation that safeguard exceptional biological, ecological, tourist and economic resources. Among the ABRAES affected by the spill are Morrocoy (Falcón) and San Esteban (Carabobo) National Parks, the Cuare Wildlife Refuge (Falcón, also a RAMSAR site), the Rural Integral Development Zone (ARDI), and the Tourist Interest Zone (ZIT), both of which are located in the Boca de Aroa-Tucacas sector, among other protected areas yet to be identified. It is particularly worrisome that the spilled hydrocarbons could reach, through the tides, the floodable (intertidal) areas of numerous small estuarine watercourses, and the mouths of the Yaracuy, Aroa and El Tocuyo rivers, located along the affected coast, as those waters are mainly used directly by the local population for domestic and recreational purposes.
The late and precarious response of PDVSA and the Ministry of the Environment, MINEC, and the silence of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Ombudsman’s Office, once again highlight the level of de-institutionalization in the country. Post-spill damages, beyond what even scientists can infer, will have to be specified in order to design specific and effective actions. This is why the Academy calls for the formation of groups of researchers in our universities, research centers and other institutions dedicated to environmental conservation. This is so that in addition to using the available information, they can carry out baseline data collection, including biological, ecological and socio-economic studies, as well as identify the local, state and national actors and levels that should be involved in a coordinated and immediate response for the recovery of the affected coastal-marine areas.
The consequences of the damage caused transcend the environmental to configure a social and economic problem that affects a vast coastal marine territory of the country, so they should not be underestimated. Environmental clean-up, baseline studies, policy decisions, and administrative and criminal sanctions that correspond according to national laws, will not return the affected systems to their pre-spill state. Nevertheless, they can help control and, in some cases, minimize the damage caused, provide up-to-date scientific information to improve monitoring and decision-making to protect the resources involved and, just as importantly, prevent that this type of recurring environmental crime
(typified as such in the Criminal Law on the Environment, 2012, specifically in its Articles 84 and 89) go unpunished and compromise the life, biodiversity, health and economy of the country.
Caracas, August 20, 2020
Dr. Mireya R. Goldwasser
President of the Academy of Physical, Mathematical and Natural Sciences
President of the National Academy of Engineering and Habitat