Oil Refinery in Peruvian Amazon

By: Jillian Solomon, SFSU, 2017

Iquitos Refinery

14km from Iquitos City, Peru, in the Loreto Region, capital of the Peruvian Amazon [1]. Approximately 437,620 inhabitants and inaccessible by road [2]. The small refinery is situated in a resource rich region, located on the left bank of the Amazon river with a processing capacity of possessing 10,500 barrels per day. Equipped with a rusty four-decade old pipeline to pump fuels from the refinery to different fuel stations across the region [3].

Industrial Processing:
  • crude oil
  • engine gasoline
  • turbo A-1 for airplanes & helicopters
  • B5 diesel
  • industrial oil [4]

    Iquitos, Peru
    Iquitos, Peru

Who owns the refinery?

PETROPERU is a state owned oil firm. The Peruvian government passed a law that allows PETROPERU to have private investors, limited to no more than 49% of its share capital [5]. This allows the state company to attract investors that can finance upgrades to refineries in Peru [6]. PETROPERU has already exceeded its spending almost $3.5 billion on the Talara refinery upgrade, since Congress passed Law No 30130 in 2013 [7]. This declared that “the modernization of the Talara refinery is a priority of national and public interest to preserve the air quality and public health of the country” [8]. Current PETROPERU refineries have a low processing capacity to produce low sulfur fuel needed to meet fuel quality standards [9].

Environmental Emergency

Oil Spills Impact Indigenous Communities

Three oil spills have occurred in 2016 from this pipeline transporting light oil from the Amazonian jungle to the pacific port that PETROPERU was responsible for [10]. In several northern jungle districts the Peruvian jungle has protested its disapproval of the lack of response to the spill, and although the company claimed clean-up , there has yet to be any restoration of the areas effected. Combined, these accidents contaminated approximately 30 kilometers of the Chiriaco river, exposing neighboring communities to toxic waste chemicals such as hydrocarbons and metals [11]. This region is also very diverse putting ecosystems at risk, and biological impacts are hard to access because systems are very complex [12]. Refineries are prone to accidents and in this case it has contaminated water supplies that locals depend on and impacted the health of many indigenous communities [13]. These spills happen frequently and do not easily disappear.

The spills contaminated: The Inayo, Chiriaco and Marañon Amazonian rivers, streams, lakes, lagoons, soils, gardens, game, fish, crops [14].

Indigenous communities affected include: The Achuar, Kichwa, Kukama, Quechua, Urarina, Suashapea, Pakunt, Chiriaco, Nuevo Progreso, Nazareth and Nuevo Horizonte [15].

“PUINAMUDT a collective of indigenous federations in Peru’s northern Amazon, states that there are “true lakes of oil, [river] banks abandoned to crude, clots of oil in the water, black roots and sediments, toxic hydrocarbon emissions, and surface water iridescent with oil. The shadow of irresponsible and unpunished oil operations hangs over the entire area.” [16]

Health problems include:
  • miscarriages
  • skin diseases
  • diarrhea
  • deaths [17]
guardians of jungle
48% of Central American forests are defended by indigenous peoples

Energy Injustice in The Amazon

The resource curse, political scientists and economists argue is a country rich in natural resources such as gas, oil, or minerals with unstable economies [18]. Countries rich in these resources tend to have unique social, political, and economical challenges compared to countries without these resources [19]. Dependence on natural resources gives political clout to extractive companies because the government is not reliant on citizen taxation, and therefore less likely to be held under scrutiny from the public [20].

Resource curse; paradoxically rich in resources yet economically poor.

Natural resources provokes internal conflict between extractive companies and communities, exacerbating social and environmental problems within communities. Extractive projects and oil exploration expand the governments profits, while human rights are not considered. Protestors are criminalized and indigenous peoples requests for land titles are denied [21]. Ecosystems, waters and sacred sites are invaded and destroyed but no one is cleaning up the mess, despite remediation commitments made by the Energy Ministry [22].

“The problem is that petrol companies think they can go to the jungle, act how they like, cover up any spills with mud, and be pretty sure that no one’s ever going to find out what happened – and that no one really cares enough about the people that live there to invest some money and do something about it.” [23]

Who is going to clean it up? When will PETROPERU clean up their mess?

Rios Amazonas


[1] Galarza, S., Malins, C. (2016). Case study: Adoption of low-sulfur fuel standards in Peru. Retrieved from: http://www.theicct.org/sites/default/files/publications/Case_study_lowsulfur_fuel_Peru.pdf

[2] World Population Review. (2017). Population of Cities in Peru. Retrieved from: http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/peru-population/cities/

[3] Post, C. (2016). Oil spills contaminate major river in Peru’s Amazon. Peru Reports. Retrieved from: https://perureports.com/2016/02/13/oil-spills-contaminate-major-river-in-perus-amazon/

[4] Post, C. (2016). State firm confirms another oil spill in Peru’s Amazon. Peru Reports. Retrieved from: https://perureports.com/2016/06/26/state-firm-confirms-another-oil-spill-in-perus-amazon/

[5] Galarza, Malins. (2016)

[6] Galarza, Malins. (2016).

[7] Galarza, Malins. (2016).

[8] Galarza, Malins. (2016).

[9] Galarza, Malins. (2016).

[10] Mega, R. E. (2016). Oil Spills Stain Peruvian Jungle. Scientific American. Retrieved from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/oil-spills-stain-peruvian-amazon/

[11] Mega, (2016).

[12] Mega, (2016).

[13] Mega, (2016).

[14] Eleconomista. (2016). Peru declares water quality emergency in oil spill-hit Amazon districts. Retrieved from: http://www.eleconomistaamerica.com/medio-ambiente-eAm/noticias/7361674/02/16/Peru-declares-water-quality-emergency-in-oil-spillhit-Amazon-districts.html

[15] Eleconomista. (2016).

[16] Hill, D. (2016). Look at the oil spilled in the world’s 2nd ‘Best Place for Wildlife’. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/andes-to-the-amazon/2016/jan/14/look-at-the-oil-spilled-in-the-worlds-2nd-best-place-for-wildlife

[17] Hill, D. (2017). $1bn to clean up the oil in Peru’s northern Amazon. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/andes-to-the-amazon/2017/aug/03/us1-billion-oil-perus-amazon

[18] Natural Resource Governance Institute. (2015). The Resource Curse: The Political and Economic Challenges of Natural Resource Wealth. NRGI ReaderRetrieved from: https://resourcegovernance.org/sites/default/files/nrgi_Resource-Curse.pdf

[19] Natural Resource Governance Institute. (2015).

[20] Natural Resource Governance Institute. (2015).

[21] Hill, (2017).

[22] Hill, (2017).

[23] Collyns, D. (2006). Rumble in the jungle. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2006/nov/22/guardiansocietysupplement.pollution


Proposed Oil Rigs in Greeley, Colorado

Written at SFSU in 2017.

An oil drilling site has been proposed next to the Bella Romero Academy, a public middle school that is located in Greeley, Colorado. The Colorado Oil & Gas Company has proposed to build the oil rigs only 1,300 ft away from this school.

Welcome to Greeley, Colorado sign (Bbean32, 2014).

Continue reading “Proposed Oil Rigs in Greeley, Colorado”

Oil Drilling in Yasuni National Park, Ecuador

Yasuni national park is a extension of the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador. The national park is known for its diverse ecosystem, which is home to countless species of plants, insects, amphibians, birds, and mammals. Now, this biodiversity hotspot is now at risk of destruction, due to its abundance of oil that lies underneath the surface. Yasuni is being exploited for a valuable resource, in the hopes of economic development for Ecuador.

Toxic oil spill in Ecuador from Chevron (flickr, 2010)

Continue reading “Oil Drilling in Yasuni National Park, Ecuador”

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Effects Indigenous Tribes in Grand Bayou, LA

Written by Natalie, SFSU, 2017

Indigenous communities, like the Atakapa-Ishak tribe, living in the Grand Bayou have been forced off their native land because of man-made environmental destruction over the last 50 years. The tipping point came in 2010 when the Deepwater Horizon oil spill  turned the Grand Bayou into a sacrifice zone. 

Deepwater Horizon oil unit on fire in the Gulf of Mexico

Continue reading “Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Effects Indigenous Tribes in Grand Bayou, LA”

Gibson Generating Station, IN

Written at SFSU in 2017

The United States is a powerhouse when it comes to coal generated power. About 65% of the power we generate comes from fossil fuels. The Gibson Generating Station located in Indiana is just one of the many coal based power generating sites that contribute to these statistics. Built as a two unit coal fired power plant in 1972, it continued to grow into the 90’s when it finally became a five unit site.

Gibson Generating Station during the day.
Gibson Generating Station during the night.

Continue reading “Gibson Generating Station, IN”

Shell Oil Refinery ,Martinez

By Jin, SFSU, 2017

In 1914, Shell Oil Company built a refinery in Martinez, CA for its undeveloped land and accessibility to transportation and a body of water to help the refinery process.[1]The environment and residents of Martinez suffer as a result of negligence from Shell and, in turn, are bearing the cost of the energy system. They suffer from bad air quality, environmental damages, and other issues caused by the oil refinery. Those who benefit from the refinery include those who use the products Shell produces (gas, diesel, lubricants, plastic, and jet fuel).

Environmental Classism
The case of Shell Oil and the Martinez community is an example of environmental classism. With the lure of cheap housing in the Bay Area and public transportation being a pull factor, laborers were drawn to the area for employment without realizing how the environmental factors for the neighborhood will negatively impact their health, environment, and overall quality of living – i.e. poor air quality.

On Monday, the Shell refinery in Martinez had a small fire in the light-oil processing unit. Less than a day later, a sour aroma from the refinery prompted hazardous materials teams to investigate. Photo: Brant Ward, The Chronicle

Oil Colonialism
Many incidents occurred in large-scale operations due to the lack of personnel interest and negligence of Shell to maintain and upgrade the refinery. On April 2, 1996, residents witnessed plumes of smoke and flames in the sky, accompanied by loud “BOOM” from an explosion at the refinery that could be seen in Oakland, located 25 miles away.[2] At this point, such occurrences have become an unfortunate norm for Martinez. One resident described it as “nightlife” in Martinez, to park their car, grab a drink, and watch the “fireballs”. [2]

Image result for martinez shell refinery fire

In addition to resident complaints, the city of Martinez has attempted to sue Shell Oil refinery for compensation and clean up fees, but the situation remains unresolved.[3] Unfortunately, the financial benefit of having the refinery greatly outweighs the cost the Martinez community suffers at the local level. American traders who interact with foreign countries control economic processes, and the countries that export crude oil to the refinery are mainly overseas.[4]While some argue that the refinery brings in jobs and money for the economy to the local community, the local community gains very little in comparison to the gains of the Shell Company itself.

Additionally, Shell customers often don’t live near where the crude oil is processed, and therefore are unaware of the health or environmental damage caused by the refinery. Oil companies knowingly use this ignorance to ensure the public does not question the origin of the product.

This method is successful because consumers are hidden from the reality of how these products are made or produced. To be transparent, companies would be forced to uphold moral choices depending on public option towards the mistreatment and cruelty done to people and the environment. This is another example of oil colonialism because the local community is burdened by the negative effects of the refinery and reaps very little benefits.[5]

Martinez is considered a sacrifice zone for the shell oil refinery. The local community is not rich in funds, but rich in ecological debt such as health issues and environmental problems.[3] Residents surrounding the Shell refinery suffer from health issues due to incidents such as oil spills and release of chemicals from the refinery process. [5]

Even overseas communities suffer from ecological debt due to the mining that destroys habitats and releases harmful chemicals into the air and water. The environmental cost is the largest aspect to consider. Every step of the process emits harmful chemicals that cause environmental issues, and because these steps are veiled to the public or ignored, big companies give the illusion that oil and gas is plentiful, cheap to use, and results in inaction to switch to alternate fuel sources. This also means that big companies can avoid or prolong paying fees & fines that pertain to environmental damages. [6]


[1]About Shell Martinez Refinery. (n.d.). Retrieved October 04, 2017, from http://www.shell.us/about-us/projects-and-locations/martinez-refinery/about-shell-martinez-refinery.html

[2]Erin Hallissy, Kevin Fagan, Chronicle East Bay Bureau. (1996, April 02). Blast Ignites Fireball at Shell Refinery / No injuries in Martinez explosion. Retrieved October 18, 2017, from http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Blast-Ignites-Fireball-at-Shell-Refinery-No-2987809.php

[3]Goldberg, T. (2017, January 30). Shell Not Revealing Full List of Gases Released in December Martinez Refinery Flares. Retrieved October 04, 2017, from https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2017/01/30/shell-wont-say-what-gases-its-martinez-refinery-sent-into-the-air-during-outage/

[4]Dallas. (2008, July 9). List of Gasoline Companies who DO NOT import oil from the Middle East. Retrieved October 18, 2017, from http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1999161/posts

[5]Ferrar, M. K. (2016, April 30). Air Pollution in the Bay Area’s Refinery Corridor. Retrieved October 18, 2017, from https://www.fractracker.org/2016/04/air-pollution-refinery-corridor/

[6]Henry K. Lee, Chronicle Staff Writer. (2007, May 09). Shell to pay almost $3M fine for Martinez refinery emissions. Retrieved October 18, 2017, from http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Shell-to-pay-almost-3M-fine-for-Martinez-2574747.php

BP Oil Refinery Explosion: Texas City, Texas

By Erin Soden, SFSU, 2017

March 23rd, 2005 marked yet another environmental injustice for Texas City, Texas. This oil spill ended with 15 deaths and 170 injured [1]. As the third largest refinery in the U.S, this explosion was particularly worse due to most of the 15 deaths being nonessential personnel that were in the wrong place at the wrong time [2]. Government and media investigations followed, along with many legal proceedings to compensate for the lives lost [3].

Continue reading “BP Oil Refinery Explosion: Texas City, Texas”