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Major Oil Companies Accused of Illegally Dumping Toxic Waste

An investigation discloses major oil companies are illegally dumping toxic waste in Patagonia.

Oil companies in Vaca Muerta, one of the largest reserves of oil and gas in the world, are accused of illegally dumping industrial oil and toxic waste in open waste ponds, as revealed in a recent investigation by Greenpeace Andino.

Who Is Responsible for Dumping the Oil and Toxic Waste?

Companies such as Total and Shell have dumped thousands of tons of waste into illegal dumping sites operated by a local waste treatment facility known as Treater S.A. Other local clients of Treater are Pan American Energy (a subsidiary of BP), ExxonMobil and YPF (owned by the state).

Spokesperson for Greenpeace Andino’s climate and energy campaign Paul Horsman said, “The way these oil companies operate is pure environmental vandalism and demonstrates how little control local authorities truly have. Oil-soaked soils and polluted air may be business as usual for companies like Shell and Total, but the government of Argentina cannot afford to continue putting oil industry profits before the health of its communities. With climate scientists warning that the world has just 12 years to cut fossil fuel use by 50 percent, it is madness to spend billions of dollars fracking Patagonia into oblivion.”

How Will the Dumping of Toxic Waste Affect Local Cities?

Researchers for Greenpeace Andino took soil and sludge samples from various areas in Añelo and Neuquén, as well as from the Treater waste site. The samples revealed hazardous amounts of volatile organic compounds and hydrocarbon chemicals. The drinking water and agricultural fields in Añelo are just over three miles away from the illegal dump sites.

One of the waste areas has expanded from just under 15 acres to more than 33 acres in less than two years. Unfortunately, none of the toxic waste is being treated in such a way that conforms with provincial or national laws.

Reserves in Vaca Muerta contain approximately 830 fracking wells, each of which produces between 21,000 and 30,000 cubic feet of waste per month. Much of the toxic waste passes through cities, agricultural fields and even sources for drinking water on the way to the treatment facilities, posing an enormous health hazard to local communities.

Two Companies Respond

Greenpeace Andino wrote to Treater S.A.’s and the implicated oil companies’ CEOs on Dec. 7, asking them to comment on the findings. As of Dec. 30 Total denied operating illegally but has solicited a meeting with Greenpeace, and Shell has acknowledged a relationship with Treater but claims the authorities have “oversight of its operations.” The other companies have yet to respond.

The Mapuche Confederation of Neuquén filed a criminal complaint last October, asking the Public Prosecutor’s Office to investigate possible criminal liability.

Héctor Jorge Nawel, coordinator for the Xawvn Ko area of the Mapuche Confederation of Neuquén, said, “We denounce the company Treater Neuquén S.A., responsible for environmental contamination with hazardous waste, for deficient treatment and disposal of the oil industry’s waste. It is critical that the state authorities and oil company executives who allowed this happen be held accountable, and that our right to a healthy environment be respected.”


Leighanna Shirey

Leighanna graduated with a degree in English from Pensacola Christian College. After teaching high school English for five years, she decided to pursue her dream of writing and editing. When not working, she enjoys traveling with her husband, spending time with her dogs, and drinking way too much coffee.

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