QUITO (Reuters) – Leaders of Ecuadorean indigenous communities gathered in Quito on Thursday to demand the government comply with court orders to halt the use of hundreds of gas flares by oil producers in the country’s Amazon.
The top court in oil-producing Sucumbios province said in mid-2021 that the use of flares by state oil company Petroecuador and private producers violated the right to health of nine local girls and their communities.
The ruling ordered the energy ministry to eliminate the flares near inhabited areas of Orellana and Sucumbios provinces within 18 months. More rural flares can operate until 2030.
Indigenous leaders allege authorities are not complying with the ruling and the still-operating flares continue to cause grave health and environmental damages.
Flaring is a practice in which drillers burn natural gas that escapes from an oil well. Flaring wastes energy that could be utilized if captured instead of burned. Also, flaring is a dirty process that produces soot and other byproducts that escape into the atmosphere, contributing to local air pollution and global warming.
Cenaida Alvarado, president of the Sinchiurko community in Sucumbios, said a gas flare 100 meters from her home contaminates rainwater and its soot harms plants and animals her community consumes.
“We demand they remove the gas flare, no more pollution,” said Alvarado, who was protesting outside the energy ministry with other leaders.
The ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Petroecuador has said it is working on a plan to capture gas being released by its 355 flares.
A study by non-governmental organizations estimates the total number of flares in Ecuador’s Amazon is 447.
The flares operate 24 hours a day. Leaders said their communities see high rates of illnesses like cancer.
“People keep dying, they keep suffering pollution,” said Leonel Piaguaje, leader of the Siekopai community. “Our lives aren’t a joke.”
Amazonian indigenous communities are fighting in court to stop oil production on their ancestral territory, a spanner in the works for President Guillermo Lasso, who wants to raise daily production to 1 million barrels to boost the beleaguered economy.
(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by David Gregorio)