The effects of illicit and unregulated gold mining in the Amazon rainforest can be highly detrimental for local communities, but it is not the only extractive industry causing problems in the Amazon.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, has recently stated that indigenous communities in Peru have suffered “devastating consequences” as a result of the oil industry in the Amazon.  His comments followed a week-long trip to the Amazon region of Lorento that has been contaminated for decades by oil companies.

Anaya specifically considered the destruction caused by an oil concession known as Block 192 (formally Block 1AB), located in the northern region of Lorento and owned by the Argentine oil and gas company Pluspetrol.  In November of last year, Peru’s environmental regulator OEFA fined Pluspetrol $7.2 million for the destruction of Shanshacocha Lake.  The company failed to report the incident, and caused irreparable damage to the surrounding ecosystem.

This incident in Block 192 was only one of several incidents that have occurred in recent years, due to the negligence of Pluspetrol.  Anaya confirmed the seriousness of the environmental problems caused by Pluspetrol and other oil companies, pointing out that toxins from the oil industry have been contaminating the region’s soil and water sources for years.  These toxins have affected the region’s food sources, and thus the health of indigenous communities.

Photo: NPR

“The indigenous leaders repeatedly made clear to me that they do not oppose development,” Anaya said, “but that the development must be in keeping with their rights, including their rights over their lands, natural resources and their own aspirations and priorities for development.”

He called on the Peruvian government and Pluspetrol to increase environmental remediation efforts, and to address issues of consultation and consent, and the effect of extractive activities on indigenous people.  Although progress has been made concerning conflicts over natural resources with the congressional approval of law on the prior consultation of indigenous people in 2011, there are still a number of challenges that must be addressed.

“Indigenous people in Peru have suffered for many years the devastating consequences of extractive projects in their territories, a history that has resulted in a deterioration of relations between indigenous people and the state that still needs to be overcome,” Anaya said.  “The challenge now is to ensure that prior consultation is implemented according to the relevant international standards.”