Esmeraldas refinery, Ecuador


In the city of Esmeraldas oil activities traditionally have had an important weight. In 1977 the first state-owned refinery was built to process newly discovered Amazonian oil. Since the beginning, the refinery has been operating with low environmental standards. It was a typical practice to dump its waste effluents into the rivers. As a consequence of this total environmental carelessness, it has a long record of environmental disasters such as oil leakages and fire incidents. One of these episodes was the SOTE (Oleoducto Transecuatoriano) oil pipes rupture and the subsequent oil leakage in February 1998. It happened few meters from the Esmeraldas refinery which suffered an explosion due to the gases emanating from the former leakage. The fire lasted one day and caused severe ecological and social damage to many inhabitants from the surrounded neighborhoods. As a consequence of this, one of these neighborhoods, La Propicia Uno filed a lawsuit against the refinery for damages not only for the fire but for the cumulative effects of daily contamination.

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Basic Data
NameEsmeraldas refinery, Ecuador
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Oil and gas refining
Specific Commodities
Crude oil
Project Details and Actors
Project Detailsthousand barrels of oil were spilled and the fire from the refinery explosion reached several neighborhoods such as La Propicia 1 y 2 and Isla Santa Cruz.

Type of PopulationUrban
Potential Affected Population160000
Start Date1998
Company Names or State EnterprisesPetroecuador from Ecuador
Petrocomercial from Ecuador
Petroproduccion from Ecuador
Relevant government actorsEnvironment Ministry , Education Ministry, The Ministry of Works, Ministry of Social Welfare
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersAccion Ecolgica, Fundacion Ecuatoriana del Habitat, Instituto de estudios Ecuatorianos (IEE), Fundacion Salud, Ambiente y Desarrollo (FUNSAD), Fundacion Salamandra, Fundacion Mara Luisa Gmez de la Torre, Fundacion Natura
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingNeighbours/citizens/communities
Forms of MobilizationBlockades
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Fires, Soil contamination, Oil spills, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Deaths
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Violations of human rights
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCourt decision (victory for environmental justice)
Do you consider this as a success?Yes
Why? Explain briefly.In 2002 the Ecuadors Supreme Court ruled in Propicia Unos favor. The Court granted the neighborhood US$ 11 million to be used for community projects. Furthermore, it exhorted that within six months Petroecuador begin cleaning up Esmeraldas rivers and air. In 2004 infrastructure works started in La Propicia Uno, not without internal and external problems regarding priority of projects and money auditing. However, until now, Petroecuador has allocated less than half of the whole budget concerned with these social projects. Furthermore, this company has been reluctant to rectify the environmental damage and to improve its technology standards.
Sources and Materials

Environment Law


Gordillo Granda, Danilo Mauricio. 2008. El conflicto socioambiental de la Propicia, visto con una mirada de gnero. Tesis de maestra. Maestra en Ciencias Sociales con mencin en Estudios Socioambientales. Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO).

Meta Information
ContributorSara Latorre
Last update08/04/2014