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Court rules against oil industry in appeal by children living next to Ecuador’s “Flares of Death”

Source: International Federation For Human Rights

Latest ruling heralds major climate victory and is set to shut down oil industry’s gas flaring and bring reparations to thousands of affected local and Indigenous communities.

“Flares of death” judged unconstitutional

On Tuesday 26 January, an appeals court judge ruled that the Ecuadorian oil industry’s long-permitted practice of gas flaring— dubbed “flares of death” by local residents— is unconstitutional.

Essentially those same gasses are sold to households and power plants as natural gas.
Routine flaring in oil production burns up flammable gases that are considered by-products. Essentially those same gasses are sold to households and power plants as natural gas. Source: carleton.ca

There are 447 gas flares in the heart of Ecuador’s Indigenous territory

Flaring is a practice in which the oil industry burns the byproducts of oil extraction, producing highly polluting methane and other gases, which erupt as a giant flame from a vertical gas pipe just meters from an oil well head.

According to AmazonFrontlines, there are 447 gas flares in the Ecuadorian Amazon, the heart of Indigenous territory. This includes 79 active flares within the Yasuni World Biosphere Reserve, which is deemed the most biodiverse area on Earth. 

The flares burn at an average temperature of 400 degrees Celsius 24-hours a day, year-round, and many are located in residential areas with no protection for exposed families.

The plaintiffs in the case— nine children aged between seven and 14 who live in the contaminated lands of Sucumbios in the Ecuadorian Amazon— sued the state-owned oil company, PetroAmazonas, the Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources, and the Ministry of the Environment in February 2020 to demand the cessation of gas flares in their villages, which contaminate the air and lead to illness, and the outlawing of future permits. 

The case builds upon the 26-year legal battle and $9.5 billion claim against oil giant Texaco-Chevron in the same region to demand justice for the ‘Amazon Chernobyl’, one of the worst oil-related disasters in the world.

“I am very happy because, finally, justice has been served,” said Leonela Moncayo, one of the child plaintiffs. “We are going to recover nature, for all the sick children, for the parents who have struggled to stay healthy, for the families who live under the flares and have had to abandon their land.”

Source: AmazonFrontlines.org 

Lawyer Pablo Fajardo with the nine girls who filed in February 2020 the protection action against different ministries of the Ecuadorian State in the Judicial Unit of the Lago Agrio.
The young plaintiffs Lawyer Pablo Fajardo with the nine girls who filed in February 2020 the protection action against different ministries of the Ecuadorian State in the Judicial Unit of the Lago Agrio. Source: Cortesía/UDAPT
As far back as 1993, Kelly Swing (for National Geographic) noticed was how many insects were drawn in and met their deaths each night.  Their scorched carcasses accumulated enmasse below the gargantuan torches, piling up so deep, they had to be loaded with tractors into dump trucks to be hauled away. There are hundreds of these flares scattered across the Ecuadorian jungle-scape.
What has oil and development meant for insects? As far back as 1993, Kelly Swing (for National Geographic) noticed was how many insects were drawn in and met their deaths each night. Their scorched carcasses accumulated enmasse below the gargantuan torches, piling up so deep, they had to be loaded with tractors into dump trucks to be hauled away. There are hundreds of these flares scattered across the Ecuadorian jungle-scape. Source: Kelly Swing/National Geographic

Just how dangerous are these flares?

Gases such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulphur oxides, SH2, CS2, nitrogen oxides, methane, ethane, propane, among others, spew out of these flares. Of these, SO2 (sulphur oxide) stands out, which when mixed with water (H2O) can form sulphurous acid (SO3H2) which, according to researchers, has been used for decades as a rat poison.

The toxic pollution caused by flaring is known to lead to chromosomal and genetic damage. The closer one lives to the flares, the more dangerous the conditions are for cancer, malformations and miscarriages

Two studies conducted in 2016 by researchers on the impacts of the oil industry on the health of Indigenous peoples living near the oil fields found that one in four families had at least one case of cancer. In nationalities further from contamination, the frequency of cancer was three times lower.

The flares also contain sulfuric acid (which is responsible for acid rain), heavy metals, radioactive substances and hydrocarbons. This form of contamination is not only a threat to local communities but can travel for 300km or more. During torrential tropical downpours the flares can go out which means they continue spewing unburnt gas, which has greater environmental toxicity.

Source: AmazonFrontlines.org 

This is a common example of gas flaring practices in the Ecuadorian Amazon: not confined torch, proximity to rainforest ecosystems. Notice the bare soil resulting from the higher temperature close to flare stack. The flares burn at an average temperature of 400 degrees Celsius 24-hours a day, year-round, and many are located in residential areas with no protection for exposed families.
Gas flaring plant in the Auca oil field (Orellana Province of Ecuador). This is a common example of gas flaring practices in the Ecuadorian Amazon: not confined torch, proximity to rainforest ecosystems. Notice the bare soil resulting from the higher temperature close to flare stack. The flares burn at an average temperature of 400 degrees Celsius 24-hours a day, year-round, and many are located in residential areas with no protection for exposed families. Source: Researchgate

gas flares literally contribute to climate change

In an oral ruling on Tuesday 26th January 2020, the appeals court judge accepted the plaintiffs’ appeal, revoking a lower court’s sentence and recognising a violation of constitutionally protected rights to health, a healthy environment, the rights of nature, and environmental principles, such as sustainable development and the state’s obligation to adopt policies and measures to prevent negative environmental impacts.

The decision also recognised a violation of international agreements, specifically the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and non-compliance with the obligations assumed by Ecuador in its national climate change strategy to reduce emitting gases and convert gas into energy.

“The gas flares literally contribute to climate change. Ecuador made a commitment through the Paris Agreement to reduce its emissions,” stated Pablo Farjado, the plaintiffs’ lawyer from the Union of the People Affected by Texaco (UDAPT). “Shutting down gas flaring in the Ecuadorian Amazon would fulfill at least 24% of the government’s climate commitment.”

“We are now demanding all the gas flares to be shut down in the country and for the court to order adequate compensation and reparation measures to affected communities. In addition, safe and viable energy alternatives must be developed”, affirms Maria Espinosa, a lawyer for Amazon Frontlines, one of several organisations supporting the case.

There will be a hearing on Friday, January 29 to determine the actions that must be taken by the state-run oil companies, the Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources and the Ministry of Environment regarding reparations for victims and the fate of the gas flares themselves.

The legal case on gas flaring in Ecuador was brought through a collaboration of several civil-society organisations, including UDAPT and the Clinica Ambiental, and others forming the Ecuadorian Alliance for Human Rights, such as Acción Ecologica and Amazon Frontlines, among others.

Source: AmazonFrontlines.org 

The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) new analysis, The Oil and Gas Industry in Energy Transitions, found that the commitments from the Bank’s Zero Routine Flaring Initiative will be an integral component of the path to ending routine flaring globally and the Paris goal of limiting global warming to well below 2°C.
World Bank’s Zero Routine Flaring Initiative: The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) new analysis, The Oil and Gas Industry in Energy Transitions, found that the commitments from the Bank’s Zero Routine Flaring Initiative will be an integral component of the path to ending routine flaring globally and the Paris goal of limiting global warming to well below 2°C. Source: WorldBank.org
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