It's a grim, but familiar, picture. Waves of black sludge lap at the sandy shore, while seabirds coated in oil struggle to lift their wings. On September 24, more than 5,800 gallons of oil spilled into Quintero Bay, Chile when intake hoses broke free from an oil tanker at the Monobuoy Terminal.
The devastation is tragic. Rescuers have already captured more than 50 birds -- including penguins, sea gulls, pelicans, blanquillo birds, hualas, cormorants, and coots -- many of which have already died from ingesting oil. Countless numbers of marine creatures that rescuers cannot reach are still dying.
The seeping oil is also devastating the livelihoods of hundreds of people in the fishing and tourism industries, who rely on the health of the oceans for their income and food. Local health officials are forbidding the consumption and sale of seafood from the area, with serious consequences for the local economy. Meanwhile, the Chilean National Fishing and Aquaculture Service (Sernapesca) is currently assessing damages to artisanal fisheries.
Oceana in Chile is calling on the Chilean government to investigate the incident and punish the company responsible for this disaster. Sernapesca has already filed a criminal lawsuit against the responsible parties. Additionally, Oceana predicts that Empresa Nacional del Petróleo (ENAP), who owns the oil operation, is guilty of gross negligence: The company initially reported the spill as slightly less than 800 gallons, and it was thus classified as a minor spill. In reality, about 5,800 gallons of oil spilled into the bay.
Unfortunately, this spill occurred in a place that has already been heavily polluted over the past 50 years. Among the most severe environmental problems are permanent coal spills from the Ventanas Port, heavy metals and sulfur emissions from smelters and power plants, and sewage discharge. The local power plants also suck in millions of gallons of seawater to cool their facilities, and then pour the super-heated water back into the ocean, killing fish larvae and other marine life.
This oil spill is not an isolated case -- it's just one example of persistent and pervasive environmental misconduct that endangers the environment and the people that depend upon it. Quintero Bay will not be restored to health without significant intervention from the government, and we need to act now.
To conduct the investigation, Oceana requests the appointment of a presidential delegate to determine why the industries in the area have such a poor environmental performance and suggest specific actions, terms, and budgets to decontaminate the bay.
In a clear signal for decision makers, this spill occurred just days before Chile became the first South American nation to establish a tax on carbon dioxide emissions. This tax is a critical step forward to establishing sustainable energy reform in Chile, and it couldn't come soon enough. We applaud Chile's efforts to tackle climate change, and encourage the government to act with equal decisiveness in determining the responsibilities for this devastating oil spill and recovering the coastal area of Ventanas, which only a few decades ago was an abundant marine area, home to small-scale fishermen that benefited from a healthy ocean.