Ecuador oil leak victims tour Louisiana marshes affected by BP spill

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 Nearly 50 years ago Texaco, an oil company now owned by Chevron, started drilling for oil in the rainforests of Ecuador. The company did little to prevent environmental damage, and many members of indigenous tribes have gotten sick or died as a result of their exposure to oil and other chemicals, tribe members say.

On Tuesday representatives from those tribes toured Louisiana’s marshland to see firsthand the impact from BP’s oil leak, and to warn Gulf residents to be wary.

On a tour of Bay Baptiste, Mariana Jimenez, 70, put her hands in the marsh and grabbed a piece of grass. When she pulled it out of the water, her hand was coated with crude.

“This reminds me a lot of Ecuador,” Jimenez said through a translator. “People need to be warned around here not to fish. The oil is sticking to my hands and it’s hard to get off. “

“Our residents, once they started ingesting the contaminated water, they became quite ill, and then they died,” she said.

Humberto Piaguaje, the leader of Ecuador’s Secoya tribe, said he was amazed the BP leak happened in the United States.

“Where is this high-end technology that can control this?” he said through a translator. “This is the United States, where technology is supposed to be the best. I don’t think it exists.

“I don’t believe you can extract oil in a way so there’s no impact on the environment,” he said.

Piaguaje and Jimenez say many of their friends and family members got sick from oil and other drilling fluids that were left in their rainforest by Texaco and other oil companies, such as Petroecuador, the state-run firm  that took over the former Texaco operation when the U.S. company left in the early 1990s. They told stories of walking through rivers with layers of crude two inches thick.

Back in Bay Baptiste, Jimenez picked a crab covered in oil out of the marsh and held it in her hand.

“This little animal is not going to survive,” she said. “He’s really sticky and covered in oil. He’s on his way to death.”

Ernest Scheyder
Tuesday, June 29, 2010

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