Cover Picture: Satellite Image by Prof Eduardo Klein (via Twitter – @diodon321)

Editor’s Note: This article is by Marco Bello, a green activist in Venezuela, and the opinions expressed in this article are solely his own. Follow him on Twitter @MarcoVzlaMia. 

Venezuela is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, with over 8000 species of animal living in rainforest, savannas, mountain ranges and tropical coastlines. These ecosystems are vital for the survival of many endangered species but they are under threat from widespread mining and the oil industry, with years of under investment in safe infrastructure, that is now spilling thousands of barrels of oil into the ocean. 

Morrocoy National Park is a strip of coastline with pristine beaches and fragile ecosystems such as mangroves and coral reefs, that according to the Venezuelan Society of Ecology (SVE), will take more than 50 years to recover after multiple oil spills. The SVE and Simon Bolivar University used satellite imagery to reveal that the first leaks were 55km long and covered an area of 68 sq Km. Venezuela’s environment ministry has said it is working to contain the spill, yet the authorities that own the refineries have not addressed the spills which, originating in PDVSA facilities, are affecting the coastal marine ecosystems in Venezuela. Particularly, the Morrocoy spill is affecting the Cuare Wildlife Refuge, Ramsar Site No. 414, designated by the Wetlands Convention. Many mollusks have likely died on contact with the oil which is consequently threatening the livelihood of local fishermen. 

Pictures from @FundacionAzul

This is not an isolated incident. According to the New York Times, Venezuela has had 46,820 oil spills between 2010 and 2018. Local experts and prior employees of the Venezuelan oil industry say that the oil spills are a result of years of under investment, negligible maintenance and unqualified labor. In fact, the BBC reported in August 2020 that PDVSA, a once-powerful oil company, is a shadow of its former self after decades of under-investment and a constant lack of equipment maintenance. Many of its most capable petroleum professionals are among the 7 million Venezuelans who have left the country over the last decade.

Pictures from @FundacionAzul

In August 2020 there was also a massive oil spill in Rio Seco, occurring in an underground pipeline that leads to a refinery. This incident was reported via Twitter in September by Prof Eduardo Klein, who is the Coordinator of the Center for Marine Biodiversity at Simón Bolívar University, and Member of the Caribbean Marine Atlas -2 Steering Group.  

The site was later shown in a video recorded by a fisherman, who was highly concerned that the Venezuelan government had not yet informed anyone of the oil spill. As of September 29th, the leak had still not been contained. Many of these oil spills appear to go unreported by PDVSA or government officials and local communities affected by the spills usually end up reporting them.

The recent oil spills affecting Mauritius have been extensively covered by international media outlets.  However, according to Forbes, Venezuela’s Morrocoy oil spill alone, was 3-4 times bigger than the spill in Mauritius. Yet these huge spills are remaining unreported. The root problem goes back 20 years, when oil prices were down to $10 a barrel in 1998 and no money was being spent on improving the industry. However, despite oil prices increasing over the last two decades, the government has not invested in safer infrastructure which has consequently led to these large disasters.

The Venezuelan Government’s response to the Morrocoy oil spill has been strongly criticized. Venezuelan officials tried to underplay the incident and repeatedly claimed they had the situation under control. The focus of the Government was to end visual pollution but, by using chemical dispersants, the outcome may be worse than the initial oil spill due to the effects of the chemicals on the extremely fragile ocean microbiome.

Regular oil spills are adversely affecting Venezuela’s coastal habitats and communities and the root cause of the issue has never fully been addressed.  There is a quota of social responsibility that is not being met and, given the scale of the ecological and social impacts, there needs to be constant and reliable reporting from the government for every oil spill that occurs.

Actions you can take:

1) Please send messages asking for effective clean-up measures via Twitter to:  PDVSA (Venezuela’s oil company) Twitter account: @pdvsa

2) Email the Ministry of Conservation & Ecosystems:

Name:  Franklin Linares

Position: Director General de Politica de Gestion y conservacion e Ecosistemas (General Director of policy and management for conservation and ecosystems)

Ministry: Ministerio del Poder Popular para el Ecosocialismo (Ministry of Popular Power for Eco-socialism)

Email: [email protected]

3) Ministry of Oil Twitter Account: @MinPetroleoVE

4) Other Twitter account:    

President (Temp) of Corporacion Venezolana de Petroleo

Name: German Marquez

Twitter: @GermanMarquezgt

5) Sign petition below (Morrocoy Declaration)