While the Mauritius oil spill recently found its way into the headlines, another similar disaster – less publicized, but very large – has affected northwestern Venezuela since late July. This was not an isolated accident, however, as oil spills are recurrent in the country. At issue: the lack of maintenance of oil installations, non-compliance with standards governing the sector, or the lack of qualified personnel.

The first information about this oil spill was published on social networks and in the Venezuelan press around August 1.

Beaches affected by the oil spill at Boca de Aroa and Tucacas. Photos published August 2 by the Fundación Azul Ambientalistas, an environmental organization.

But it was not until three days later that the Ministry of Ecosocialism recognized the “presence of hydrocarbons and possible by-products” in the area, indicating that teams had started the clean-up and put in place hydrophobic socks, to slow the progression of the hydrocarbons. On August 10, Deputy Minister Josué Lorca a indicated that more than 15 kilometers of coastline were being cleaned.

Device to prevent the progression of hydrocarbons. Photos published on August 12 by an internet user who visited the affected area.

Among the main places affected: Morrocoy National Park, known for its paradisiacal beaches and the richness of its ecosystem, including mangroves, corals, and turtles, and the Cuare Wildlife Refuge, which is home in particular to numerous species of birds (State of Falcón).

Cleaning mangroves in Morrocoy National Park. Video posted on August 11 by an internet user who visited the affected area.

Mangroves covered with oil in Morrocoy National Park. Photos published on August 15 by the Fundación Azul Ambientalistas.

Satellite images to determine the origin of the oil spill

So far, the government and state-owned oil company PDVSA have not commented on the origin of the spill, its extent, or the type of fuel spilled. A silence denounced by environmental organizations and the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

But for Eduardo Klein, a scientist at Simón Bolívar University, his origin “is beyond doubt”. On August 9, he posted on Twitter two satellite images showing the area where the El Palito refinery – controlled by PDVSA – is located in the state of Carabobo: if everything seems normal on the image recorded on July 19, a significant black spot is visible off the refinery from July 22.

“Satellite images of the El Palito refinery and adjacent areas. The origin of the leak is not in doubt,” wrote Eduardo Klein, August 9. .

Two days later, Eduardo Klein broadcast another satellite image, recorded on July 26: it again shows a large black mass off the El Palito refinery.

“Image from Sunday July 26: 260 km2 of oil spilled into the sea in front of the El Palito refinery […]”, wrote Eduardo Klein on August 11.

In addition, a second leak believed to have originated from this refinery was observed over a week ago, according to the satellite image below.

“A second flight approaches Morrocoy. […] Image Sentinel S2A from Monday, August 10, at 11 a.m., “Eduardo Klein said on August 10.

According to Eduardo Klein’s estimates, around 22,000 barrels of oil were spilled from the refinery, a figure taken up by the Venezuelan Society of Ecology and different media. It is more than in Mauritius, where approximately 1000 tonnes of fuel oil – the equivalent of 7,600 barrels – have escaped from the Japanese ship Wakashio since the end of July.

Eduardo Klein compares the magnitude of the oil spills in Venezuela and Mauritius here.

Besides the satellite images, other elements support the hypothesis that the oil would come from the El Palito refinery. “If we consider the direction of the currents and the area where the hydrocarbons have arrived, this agrees”, indicates Ausberto Quero, president of the Commission for the environment of the center of engineers of the State of Zulia, questioned by the editorial staff. Observers from France 24.

In addition, several local media had mentioned fuel oil leaks from these facilities. around July 21, as well as multiple incidents in recent months: electrical failures, turbine problems, gas leaks and of oil, or explosions.

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