(Translated by Leo Torres, a CSN Volunteer Translator, edited by David Van Den Brandt)
by Óscar Vanegas Angarita*
May 2, 2014
I feel so embarrassed for the Minister of the Environment that I had to use this unfortunate sentence to title this newspaper column. It also expresses my concern about the environmental disaster that the STAR project—the in situ (on the spot) combustion being conducted by Pacific Rubiales Energy in Quifa field since November 2011—will generate or is generating silently.
Just this week an official of the Colombian Geological Survey (SGC) came to the office of Senator Jorge Robledo with a report by the National Seismological Network of Colombia (SNCR) recording atypical stats about earthquakes that have been occurring south of Puerto Gaitan, from 1997 until February 23, 2014. The Senator was surprised to learn that it is not typical that earthquakes occur in the eastern plains, away from the mountain range, as shown by the statistics of the period 1997 – 2010, in which only five earthquakes of less than 2 degrees on the Richter scale occurred at depths greater than 30 km. This behavior is called “seismic silence”. The senator was floored when he observed that since the beginning of the STAR project and until February 23, there have been 176 earthquakes, generated an average depth of 1.15 km ( 3,400 feet: depth of the reservoirs of Quifa, Rubiales and Pirirí fields), and with an average intensity of 2.7 degrees on the Richter scale.
This means that most likely the fuel reservoir is burning more than 70 percent of the oil turning it into [petroleum] coke, generating temperatures around 1,000 Celsius degrees and very high pressures, due to the accumulation of combustion gases, fracturing the reservoir and the caprock (León formation), because the latter fractures at a lower pressure.
In previous newspaper columns, I pointed out the failure of the STAR project and denounced the environmental pollution generated by the explosion of the first injector well and one of the producer wells as a result of these high pressures, which are fracturing rocks and causing earthquakes every day with greater frequency (80 in the last two months) and in higher intensity (they have recently reached 4.1 degrees on the Richter scale, which is equivalent to the energy released by an low power atomic bomb).
If with all this clear evidence, the national government and Ecopetrol do not order Pacific to turn off the combustion of the reservoir, probably in a few years or months the combustion gases (CO2, H2S, sulfur dioxide, etc.), the ash and crude oil will be reaching the surface through fractures and the annulus of the wells, polluting groundwater and surface water bodies, extinguishing all aquatic fauna; polluting the air and greatly affecting the habitat of terrestrial fauna that need wetlands for their survival. When that happens, the five thousand capybaras who died this summer in Paz de Ariporo will be nothing compared to what could happen in such a disaster.
Will the oil companies and the government blame the boyacenses [the people of Boyacá], the producers of potato, climate change, the farmers and agribusiness producers of palm, rice and rubber? Tomorrow morning we will know.
* Ing Petroleum. President of Orseme.
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