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Mega crisis of petro-dependency and imperative for a post-oil world
The Petroleum Alert Network (Orinoco Oilwatch), with its more than 40 groups and individual members, its several years of experience and its independent character, is as a collective, a pioneering organization with extensive experience in the environmental-oil issue in Venezuela that it has earned national and international recognition.
Through collective approaches or its individual members, since 1996 the Petroleum Alert Network (RAP) has deployed constant work from study centers and in the field of oil industry operations, in order to carry out research and produce reports and recommendations on the environmental issue of oil. In this task, the Network has benefited from its close contact with other similar organizations in other countries of the world, members of the Network of Resistance to Petroleum Activity in the Tropics (Oilwatch International), for the purpose of exchanging valuable information on a mostly common problem.
In all this work, the message to all the different governments has always been the same: Demand from the oil industry greater environmental and social responsibility in its operations, warn about particularly risky hydrocarbon exploitation plans and advocate for a new more energy model. in harmony with the environment and human well-being, in the context of a diversified, healthy and sustainable economic model.
After carefully weighing the events of the current Venezuelan oil conflict, as well as the information from our various affiliates, the Secretary of the Petroleum Alert Network (Orinoco Oilwatch) has considered its duty to establish a position on the conflict with a view to contributing to the clarification of the situation . Such a task has not been devoid of challenging aspects, since the truth is frequently a victim in polarizing situations such as those that our country is experiencing; Therefore, it is the duty of every objective observer to the highest interests to try to overcome any informational bias or distortion that may result from such a situation, in order to be able to act with the greatest reliability and utility for the collective good.
Based on all of the above, we express the following to national and international public opinion:
1.- It is evident that the oil conflict that we are experiencing has increased the environmental risks of the operation of hydrocarbons in our country. The mere discarding of the oil facilities by the workers declared unemployed, as well as the insufficiency of the personnel who have tried to keep the oil industry afloat have already been sufficient reasons to cause the situation of greatest risk. In addition to the above, there have been reports of damage, deliberate or involuntary, to the computer, physical and financial infrastructure of the operations and even some acts of violence in the oil fields. Given all of the above, the sensible thing to do for all co-responsible factors is to recognize the potential for greater risk and take extreme precautions to avoid damage or an environmental disaster of greater proportions or serious consequences for the surrounding populations.
2.- Much has been said about the exacerbation of accidents with the current conflict in relation to past experience, especially in the Lake Maracaibo area, something very regrettable due to its consequences; These contingencies must be resolved promptly and efficiently. On the other hand, the exact comparison with the past is made difficult by the veil of protection that this type of information has traditionally had on the part of the Oil Industry. The figure given by the president of PDVSA during the current conflict on a number of 50 spills in Lake Maracaibo per month as an average in recent previous years (something already alarming) was previously unknown, since the industry's custom was to keep this type of information out of the public reach, for reasons of their convenience. An independent effort to fill the information gaps has been made in materials such as the environmental chapter of PROVEA's Human Rights Report in Venezuela for the last 4 years with the contribution of the Secretariat of the Petroleum Alert Network. What we are sure of is the unfortunate basic historical balances.
3.- The protection of life itself must come first. That is why we cannot approve that in the name of the strike, a ship loaded with 35 million liters of gasoline has been left anchored in the middle of Lake Maracaibo - a fact that by itself already constitutes a serious environmental risk; as we cannot approve an attempt to restart the work of a refinery adjacent to a populated center without having sufficient guarantees of the safety of said operation; or to approve that millions of people have been deprived en masse of a supply of vital fuel to ensure many of their basic needs (even with some environmental consequences as well, as has been the case of thousands of families in the interior of the country who faced the pressing lack of domestic gas for cooking has required the use of forests to provide firewood.)
4.- As activists fully faithful to the environmental cause and to the protection of life and human dignity, we cannot endorse any action, whoever it comes from, that causes great suffering to the population or the environment. As all spiritual traditions recognize: "The end does not justify the means", the means have to be in line with the end.
5. - The current oil conflict cannot be examined independently of what the previous oil history has been. We celebrate that the conflict has brought to the fore a public discussion about the oil industry as it had never existed in our country, either due to misinformation, disinterest or concealment. And we even celebrate that individuals, civil society organizations, even from the environmental world, as well as the media, which until now had been absent from the environmental-oil issue, have now joined it, an issue that until now had been the stronghold of a few heroic compatriots. In all of the above, what has happened in Venezuela has a remarkable character, even worldwide, and should be a subject of compulsory study for all those interested in the oil and energy issue.
But you have to get to the bottom of things. The oil industry in Venezuela and throughout the world has always been harmful to the environment in all its operations, including exploration, extraction, transportation, storage and the processing and use of its derivatives. Its standards of environmental protection and protection of traditionally affected populations have left much to be desired, starting with a systematic bypass or reluctance by the industry to recognize its responsibilities. In this sense, the above has occurred in Venezuela both under the control of transnational companies (from 1920 to 1976) and under the control of the nationalized industry, that is, PDVSA (from 1976 onwards) - despite the fact that we recognize the efforts of this in recent years to improve a poor environmental record.
As a consequence of the above, it is good to remember that in the case of Venezuela there have historically been thousands of oil spills in Lake Maracaibo, the notorious epicenter of the current conflict. In this sense, it is worth mentioning blowouts such as "Barroso No. 2", in 1922, which dumped 900,000 barrels of oil into the environment (or 4 times that of the Exxon Valdez ship, in Alaska and 3 times that of the Prestige ship off Spain); that of the ship Nissos Amorgos, in 1997, which spilled 27,000 barrels in the Gulf of Venezuela, linked to the Lake; as well as countless spills over the 5,000 wells and around 20,000 km2 of pipes that perforate its waters - many of them today an inherent environmental risk due to their decline after decades of use or neglect. One of the greatest environmental crimes in the world has been committed in Lake Maracaibo, as a consequence of almost a century of accumulated oil exploitation.
Also remember that throughout the country there are tens of thousands of toxic waste pits - inherent products of oil exploitation, still neglected (without treatment), as part of an ecological debt of oil that, as a consequence of all oil exploitation and of the existing refineries and petrochemical complexes in the country, it has polluted surface and groundwater, destroyed forests and soils, and polluted the air; laying the foundations for the worst poverty: the one that occurs when Mother Nature, who is the sustenance of life, is destroyed. Remember also that valuable agrarian and indigenous cultures have been sacrificed on the altar of the oil industry.
All of the above, for the sake of supplying the world with Venezuelan oil, and also in the midst of a world where "wars for oil" have not been infrequent and even today they persist on the horizon.
6.- In addition to its not yet redeemed great environmental and social bill, and the physical and spiritual poverty that this has generated, after almost 100 years of operation of the oil industry in Venezuela it has also become clear the persistent dependence, vulnerability, and concentration of political and economic power that this has meant. All of the above to the detriment of a more independent, less vulnerable, and more authentically democratic country. And despite all the past slogans and policies of "sowing oil" (economic diversification), reducing the country's vulnerability to oil dependence, and keeping the industry subordinate to the highest interests of the Nation. This experience has been repeated in most of the mono-producing oil-producing countries, which suggests that such consequences have been inherent in the nature of the oil paradigm itself, beyond the "bad or good administration" of the income contributed by oil - as the promoters of the perpetuation of the oil model have alleged. Since the problem has been with the industry itself, it is the industry that has to change to accommodate the needs of human well-being, and not the other way around.
7.- Despite all its miseries, the oil conflict has served Venezuela for some important lessons. As has already been said before, it has precipitated a public debate on the oil industry and its political, environmental, and social aspects unprecedented in the history of the country and perhaps worldwide. It has forced Venezuelans, the most energy-intensive and automobile-dependent people in Latin America, to appreciate more the value of energy, public and alternative transportation, and energy security. Such learning can be used for a better country, after the conflict is overcome, which we hope will be achieved in peace, justice, and national reconciliation.
For now our temporary economic base is oil, we still require your contribution, and especially after the current great derangement, so as not to be submerged in misery. But it is urgent to review the oil development model, we have seen the great fragility that dependence on a single commodity, a single mega company, or even a few transnational companies entails. The alternative is to find economic diversity, such as that of Nature, and that socio-diversity, biodiversity, the life of indigenous, peasant, fishing communities and Nature itself be respected.
8.- Once the conflict is resolved, there is no doubt that PDVSA, the national oil industry, will never be the same again. For us, this new PDVSA must be unburdened from the obstinate determination to continue to the extreme in the obsolete oil model, whose vulnerabilities and environmental, social and political costs have become obvious to the country. In this sense, it would be imperative that the country draw a scenario of no more than 30 years to overcome its unacceptable petro-dependence and petro-vulnerability, and achieve a diversified and post-oil economy of a sustainable nature.
For which, why not leave closed then, once and for all, some of the oil taps forced to cease by the conflict? Or as we have requested so many times, leave the fragile ecosystem of the Gulf of Paria and the Orinoco Delta free of hydrocarbon exploitation, a valuable reservoir of biotic resources and with a vital ecological function for Venezuela and the entire Eastern Caribbean? ; analogously to the declaration of Costa Rica to free its coasts from oil exploitation, for reasons of the highest national interest? Just as Venezuela was forced to invoke "force majeure reasons" as a result of the Conflict to excuse the interruption of oil supplies to foreign clients, in the protection of its natural integrity "force majeure reasons" should also be invoked so as not to continue with a "oil culture" in quarrel with such high interests. With all this, Venezuela would set a great example to the world.
We urge the International Community to support our country so that it does not continue to be pressured to sacrifice its integrity in order to continue satisfying the voracious and insatiable oil consumption of the North. And to the compatriots who genuinely hurt the country to fight to make this possible. The success of Venezuela in that endeavor would be a success for the responsible world. The slogan for the new Venezuela should be:
"Venezuela a diversified and post-oil economy of a sustainable nature in less than 30 years".
The managerial and technical capacities of the new PDVSA, with the appropriate international competition that may be necessary, would be at the service of such a great goal, which would include a new poly-energy paradigm, based on classic small-scale and ecologically sustainable renewable energies (such as solar, wind, water, and ecologically appropriate forms of biomass - all so abundant in our country that they could supply, locally, energy equivalent to several times its normal oil production, as well as advanced renewables such as hydrogen energy - obtained from clean sources (a fuel that for many, will soon be the substitute for petroleum as the main universal fuel).
The new sources of energy, in addition to being renewable and cleaner, have the convenience of a more decentralized character and less creation of vulnerability and dependency; All of which tends to avoid the undesirable concentrations of economic, political and technocratic, anti-democratic power that have all too often characterized the oil paradigm.
9.- We urge the national and international public opinion, the authorities, the conscientious PDVSA officials, the media, acting with the highest authentic patriotic sense - because homeland is a "human community plus preserved natural territory", not to miss the opportunity that the current crisis offers us to rethink the oil industry based on a new energy model at the service of post-oil Venezuela that famous and visionary Venezuelans have yearned for before, for a better country and world.
Today has depended on what we did Yesterday and Tomorrow depends on what we do Today. Well, as the Indian Chief Seattle said in his immortal proclamation: " Everything that happens to the Earth will happen to the children of the Earth. The man did not weave the web of life, he is only a thread of it. What he does with the plot he does to himself "
In August 1996, the environmental organization AMIGRANSA- Society of Friends in Defense of the Gran Sabana, promoted the creation in Venezuela of the RED ALERTA PETROLERA (Orinoco-Oilwatch), a Venezuelan subsidiary of OILWATCH, an international organization of "Resistance to oil exploitation in the tropics and monitoring of the environmental and social impacts of such activity ", born in Quito, Ecuador, where the International Secretary of Oilwatch is located. In the OIL ALERT NETWORK, we have considered a priority due to its urgency and its seriousness, requesting a MORATORY to the oil activity in areas of high environmental and social fragility; carry out the study of the problem of the Orinoco Delta / Gulf of Paria area in the extreme east of the country, at the mouth of the Orinoco River, habitat of the Warao indigenous ethnic group; the aftermath of the exploitation of oil, coal and gas in Edo. Zulia, the result of the ‘strategic associations’ in the Orinoco oil belt and the ecological debt. Its spokespersons are part of environmental groups, indigenous peoples, academic and research institutions, human rights groups, fishermen groups and other local populations affected by the impacts of oil, gas and petrochemical mega-projects.
Members of the RED ALERTA PETROLERA (ORINOCO OILWATCH)
Society of Friends in Defense of the Gran Sabana, AMIGRANSA, Women and Environment Study Group GEMA, Naturist Society of Venezuela, Fundamat, Representatives of Indigenous Communities, Network of Indigenous Women WARAO, Federation of Environmental Boards FORJA MOSIN, Grupo Ecológico de Bolívar GREBO , Jardin Botanico de Tucupita,, ECO XXI, Vicaria Derecho y Justicia, Casa del Trabajador de Sucre Foundation, Sucre Conservation Society, Solidarity Committee with EL HORNITO, Sierra de Perija Defense Front, Zulia Ecologist Front, Cinemovil Wuayra and other relevant personalities from the field of oil, anthropology, biology, law, agriculture and fishing.