A burst pipe has spilled thousands of barrels of oil into a reservoir, contaminating the water supply of Cucuta, north Colombia, according to Radio Caracol.
It is the second time in four years that a pipe belonging to Ecopetrol, Colombia’s state-owned oil company, has burst, causing serious pollution of the Pamplonita River and a red alert in the city of Cucuta, capital of the department of Norte de Santander.
Early reports suggest that a landslide of stone and mud crashed onto the oil pipe as it ran through a farm in the area, spilling thousands of barrels of oil into the Iscala ravine, which leads to the Paplonita River, the main tributary feeding the Cucuta aquaduct and reservoir that supply the city’s fresh water.
Emergency services have launched major efforts to contain the contamination. The road joining Cucuta to Pamplona was closed to traffic to allow emergency works to try and stem the flow, while a grease trap was created north of Cucuta in an effort to collect crude oil.
However such efforts have unable to completely contain the oil, which continues to be brought to other municipalites by the river Pamplonita. The oil slick has so far covered 70km of river, causing serious environmental damage.
Milton Leon, coordinator of one of the water suppliers that use the reservoir, said water is being delivered to the city in tanks, prioritizing health clinics and hospitals. A further 32 centers have been set up as fresh water collection points for Cucuta residents.
Leon confirmed that the aquaduct gates will remain closed until the water can be purified. It is thought that the spill will keep Cucuta without water for at least two weeks, affecting the city’s 900,000 residents.
Alberto Rangel, who lives in Cucuta, said that “Ecopetrol must respond by compensating the inhabitants of the villages and municipalities affected.”
This is the second oil spill to affect Pamplonita River in four years. In June 2007, an Ecopetrol pipe burst spilling thousands of litres of oil into the river, affecting the water supply and leaving Cucuta without fresh water for a month.