Monday, August 01, 2016

VENEZUELA - Environmental and Economic Disaster

"Oil smuggling brings environmental disaster to Venezuela's economic ruin" PBS NewsHour 7/26/2016


SUMMARY:  The economic disaster in Venezuela caused by tumbling petrol prices — oil production is the main industry — is also behind an environmental one.  Lake Maracaibo, which sustains the Añu indigenous group, is being contaminated by oil spills and the leaky drilling infrastructure, all made worse by rampant gas smuggling.  Special correspondent Nadja Drost and videographer Bruno Federico report.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  We return now to a Venezuela in crisis.

We recently brought you a report from Caracas on the collapse of the economy and the health care system and the lawlessness run rampant there.

Tonight, again in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on crisis Reporting, special correspondent Nadja Drost and videographer Bruno Federico report from western Venezuela on Lake Maracaibo.  It is the hub of Venezuela's oil industry, the country's lifeblood, which is now a trade in serious trouble.

NADJA DROST, special correspondent:  The drop in oil prices has not just devastated the Venezuelan economy.  It's causing an environmental crisis as well.  An oil spill that happened in May still covers the shoreline of Lake Maracaibo.

JOSE GREGORIO GARCIA, Fisherman (through translator):  Lately, we have been seeing a lot of oil spills.  It wasn't like this before.

NADJA DROST:  Jose Gregorio Garcia is part of the Anu indigenous group, who live in the lake area.  Anu means people of the shore, and fishing has long been their sustenance.  But leaking oil is damaging their livelihood; 15,000 barrels of oil have spilled into the lake in the last two months, according to the state oil company.

JOSE GREGORIO GARCIA (through translator):  There were species that we don't see now.  We think it's because of the contamination.

NADJA DROST:  Shrimp are gone completely, and the lake's once-thriving blue crab fishery is also disappearing.

JOSE GREGORIO GARCIA (through translator):  The oil goes to the bottom of the lake.  That's where the crab is.  It migrates, or dies, or gets covered with petroleum, and when it's stained like that, no one will buy it.

NADJA DROST:  Oil wells have been abandoned, and production has slowed to a 13-year low.  That means money that was supposed to be set aside to stop oil spills has dried up.

Alfredo Dominguez, who checks oil platforms for the state company which operates all the oil fields, says there's a lack of everything, equipment and the parts to fix it and oversight by management.  Plus, thieves have also wrecked the infrastructure.

ALFREDO DOMINGUEZ, Field Operator (through translator):  They rob cables from the oil stations, bulbs, everything that can be melted down.  They take apart the tubes.  The wells keep pumping and sending the oil to the station, but the cables and tubes have been cut, so the oil ruptures and spills into the lake.

NADJA DROST:  For decades, Lake Maracaibo has been a symbol of Venezuela's oil wealth, but, today, it's in a state of decay.  Beneath us, there is a massive network of interlaced tubes transporting oil and gas.  Locals refer to it as a bowl of spaghetti.

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