MONitoring of OIL activities in Ecuador : a cross-disciplinary approach between people, environment, and health – MONOIL

Monitoring of Oil activities in Ecuador : a cross-disciplinary approach between Environment, Health and People - New tools for supporting decision-making

Uncontrolled development of oil activities in Ecuador since the 60's induced very important impacts on the environment, society and human health, mainly in the western Amazon and along the Pacific coast, close to Esmeraldas. Since 2008, the Ecuadorian Constitution requires that the State take inmediate measures to repair the damages and to reduce social vulnerability giving a larger part to scientific research for the development.

To repare environmental and socio-economic damages and prevent risks: new scientifc answers

The main objective of the MONOIL Program is the coupled analysis of the vulnerability and resilience of socio-economic and environmental systems to oil contamination but also on other economic impacts of the oil activity, such as agriculture or household welfare. Its principal objective is the improvement of understanding, monitoring, reduction and prevention of oil contamination and its impact on society and the environment and human health.The aim of MONOIL is to evaluate, in several study areas in the Ecuadorian Amazon and along the Pacific coast, comparing oil exploted areas with pristine (control) areas : <br />1/ environmental contamination (air, waters, sediments, soils, aquatic and terrestrial food chains, cultivated products) <br />2/ the impact on socioeconomic development of the oil-rich areas, by placing this development in a wider context of the impact of this activity on the development of the concerned areas, <br />3/ the vulnerability and social disposition to face oil impacts at different levels of action (at the national, regional, ‘parish’ and family levels) <br />4/ to develop concrete technical and organisational solutions to answer the challenges ahead. The global result of the MONOIL Program is a cross-disciplinary and ecosystem-focused approach wich allows the strengthening of ecuadorian skate-holders, from the national to the domestic scale, in order to control oil contamination and to reduce social vulnerability thanks to the production and diffusion of new tools and knowledge in order to improve the managment and the prevention of socio-environmental impacts due to oil activities and to reinforce the environmental security.

Collective field work is planned on 2 large study areas, the first one characterized by oil activities, and in a control area, in a pristine zone, at the south of the Ecuadorian Amazon basin. The quantification of environmental impacts of oil activities is realized by measuring trace metallic elements and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in air, surface and sub-surface waters, in soils, sediments and cultivated products. Passive samplers will be installed in the atmosphere and in rivers to measure the bioavalaible fluxes of toxic molecules; the atmospheric samplers are installed close to flares, on house roofs or in schools. In parallel, cualitative surveys will be realized at the individual scale with local people living close to oil infrastructures, in order to characterize the importance of health and environment risks due to oil activities in their way of living, to compare them with other risks and understand their potential vulnerability and the household strategy to face them. Perception-based regional mapping will allow us to map the living conditions perceptions of local people in study areas. To complete the qualitative and spatial approach of people to face the health risks and impacts due to oil activities, surveys (with questionnary) are planned to quantify their perceived risks, how do they face the health impacts in regard to their (economic) dependance to oil activities and their , mais aussi leurs defense strategy. An innovant tool will be developped in the MONOIL Program to decontaminate natural water from PAHs contamination that local people use for cooking and drinking. The whole database will be integrated in a multi-agents model to elaborate prospective scenarios.

As soon as there is no direct or personal experience of the oil contamination impacts, there is no change in the way of living of exposed populations : «To face« action means an «emergency culture« in settlers populations who use to their own advantage the oil activities and their impacts to ensure their daily life, minimizing the environment and health risks relatively to the expected benefits (mainly economic). From one hand, oil activities diversify jobs and incomes. From the other hand, the multiplicity of services and goods (employments, education and health services, training and endowment of farming material) evidence that local people accept sanitary and environmental risks due to oil impacts on drinking water and place where they live. The regulation frame of oil activities in Ecuador strengthens the balance between negative (contamination risks) and positive (employment, development) impacts forcing the social acceptability of induced risks : the oil income redistribution since 2010 is reconstructing the public action in the Amazon region on the social justice and «well-being« basis. The first environmental results show that surface and drinking waters are not affected by PAHs and toxic trace metal elements (TME) ; on the other hand, river sediments present high PAHs concentrations in 2 areas (Esmeraldas refinery and Sacha oil Camp). Soils in specific areas show high TME burdens (V, Cr, Co, Cu, Zn et Ba) exceeding Ecuadorian environmental limits. Cd concentrations also exceed the European standard value in cocoa beans. To face the contamination risks, a depolluting system will be developped in the MONOIL Program, from local products (wax and plant oil) ; the first tests in the laboratory allowed to reduc e from 83 to 97% sevral PAHs from artifical water (for naphtalene and phenanthrene respectively).

Reinforcement of the scientific and politico-institutionnal partnership by signing a Collaborative Research Agreement between 9 collaborators (educationnal and public Ministry) more 3 ecuadorian universities recently involved in the MONOIL Program and 2 new French laboratories (with IRD, CNRS, INP and University). This Agreement has been validated by the ANR on the January, 07th, 2015. 4 new specific agreements have been signed between the IRD and Equadorian partnerships. A specific agreement with financial support from the public company Petroecuador is to be sign with the IRD in France. Three PhD students with their own funding (from the Educational Ministry of Peru and Ecuador) are doing their research in the frame of the MONOIL Program. From an operational viewpoint, organogel materials developped to decontaminate waters from dissolved PAHs, an application is developped for PAHs monitoring in urine. This innovant tool should be easy to use in the field and cheap. On the other hand, researchers from the Task 3 of the MONOIL Program are participating in Quito to the environmental legislation update by adding the monitoring of sediment quality which was not planned in 2013 when we submitted the Project. They are working closely with authority from the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment.

Juteau G., Becerra S., Maurice L. (2014) « Ambiente, petróleo y vulnerabilidad política en el Oriente Ecuatoriano: ¿hacia nuevas formas de gobernanza energética? », Revue America latina Hoy.

The cross-disciplinary MONOIL Project ambition is to participate to the description of human vulnerability facing environmental changes due to oil activities in Ecuador.
Usually, oil pollution is considered when environmental crises occur following transport or operating accidents, thereby giving rise to what is commonly called "oil spills". In the case of Ecuador, the issue of chronic contamination occurred decades ago with the arrival of private oil companies in the Amazon basin, even if its mediatisation began with the Texaco court trial in the early 90s. Since then, it takes part of the daily life of local communities.
The main objective of the MONOIL Project is to improve the understanding, the monitoring, the reduction and the control of oil contaminations and their impacts on society and environment in terms of damage but also vulnerabilities, to enable the co-construction of strategies that reduce vulnerability and adaptation, ecologically sustainable, economically viable, appropriate sociologically and politically relevant.
Facing the issue and the stakes within the sustainable development context, another challenge will consist in participating to the development of new governance tools on both environment and energy for supporting a better remediation and preventing capacity of the industrial actors and the public action institutions working on this issue.
The specific objectives of the MONOIL Project consist to assess: 1) the environmental impacts in two study areas of the Amazon basin and along the Pacific coast, around the Esmeraldas refinery, 2) the social and economic impacts of oil exploration at a larger scale, regarding the regional development of the study areas, 3) the vulnerabilities and tendencies of riparian people to face the potential contamination of natural resources at different scales (national, regional, local and at the home scale), and 4) to develop technical and organizational solutions to face the risks.
The scientific holistic position and the cross-disciplinary approach we adopted (the project combines researchers in sociology, geography, epidemiology, hydrology, geochemistry, toxicology, biology and Ecuadorian operational actors) will allow achieving the scientific objectives of the project and ensuring the transfer to local actors, as decision support tools. Through the transfer of operating knowledge and scientific tools to academic, industrial, political partners and the civil society, MONOIL will be part of the implementation of a policy that better integrates energy issues and society challenges as an environmental, health and sustainable development as a whole.

Project coordinator

Madame Sylvia BECERRA (Géosciences Environnement Toulouse) –

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


GET - IRD Géosciences Environnement Toulouse
LEREPS / U-Tlse1 Laboratoire d’Etude et de Recherche sur l’Economie, les Politiques et les Systèmes sociaux
GEODE - DR14 CNRS Géographie de l'environnement
HSM - IRD Hydrosciences Montpellier
EPOC - U-Bdx1 Environnement et Paléo-environnement Océanographiques et Continentaux
EPN Ecole Polytechnique Nationale d’Equateur
EP PETROECUADOR Entreprise publique Petroecuador
PRAS Programma de Reparación Ambiental y Social
IMRCP - DR14 CNRS Interactions moléculaires et réactivité chimique et photochimique

Help of the ANR 861,000 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: January 2014 - 42 Months

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