The Waorani tribe from the Amazon of Ecuador filed a lawsuit against the Chinese Oil Company PetroOriental on Thursday, accusing the company of contaminating their ancestral lands by flaring, the burning of natural gas from oil wells.
The indigenous community is objecting to the practice of flaring where millions of cubic meters produced from wells are deliberately burned by oil producers.
The leaders of the Waorani village of Miwaguno filed a lawsuit in the court of Francisco de Orellana as victims of the environmental contamination.
According to Menare Omene, a 52-year-old Waorani woman, “The rainfall tastes like coal. We still use it because we don’t have drinking water.” Omene’s community of about 150 people filed the complaint against the oil company.
The PetroOriental oil company yields at least 10,000 barrels of oil per day in Orellana. Based on estimates from Ecuador’s Energy ministry in 2018, in every barrel of oil produced, five cubic meters of natural gas is burned. In Orellana, the high number of oil burners and the smoke it produces has taken a toll on their land and water sources.
Miwaguno village leader Juan Pablo Enomenga said that they wanted to turn off the burners “because of the environmental damage to our land. It’s full contamination,” he added.
Miwaguno village is located near oil wells where many PetroOriental burners are flaring.
Enomenga said that over the past 15 years the community’s staple food of yucca and plantain has gradually declined due to environmental pollution.
“What we sow on the farm does not even yield 50 percent”
In the complaint, the community said that they have seen their way of life have been altered forever and that their survival is threatened as a result of climate change.
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Not the first court case
This is not the first time that Waorani had a field day in court. Last year, the indigenous tribe won their first victory against giant oil companies when a court ruling blocked the oil companies’ entry into their ancestral lands for oil exploration activities.
The criminal court in Puyo ruled a court protection order in favor of the Waorani tribe in Pastaza province to stop a bidding process for oil after the government of Ecuador moved to open around 18,000 hectares in the area for oil exploration.
According to Lina Maria Espinosa, the lawyer for the tribe, there was no consultation on the oil exploration, and that the state violated the rights of the people.
The judges ordered the government to conduct a new consultation on the exploration plans adhering to the standards set by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Ms. Espinosa said that the court decision “has created a significant precedent for the Amazon.”
The Waoroni tribe is a community of approximately 5,000 people whose ancestral domains lie in the provinces of Napo, Pastaza, and Orellana in Equador and the borders of Peru.
Oil producers such as the PetroOriental oil company had 446 registered burners that are in operation in the Ecuadorian Amazon and 159 of which are found in Orellana.
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