LIMA (Reuters) - Peruvian state-owned energy company Petroperu will ask local communities to help protect its oil pipeline from the vandalism that it blames for several leaks in the Amazon this year, the company’s new president said Monday.
The 687-mile (1,106-km) pipeline, which spans a vast expanse of jungle to feed Petroperu’s refinery on the Pacific coast, should resume operations in four to five months after repairs, said Augusto Baertl, a former mining executive responsible for running Petroperu in the new government of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.
Government officials previously said it would take at least a year to reopen the pipeline, shuttered since February after a leak.
Petroperu’s pipeline has spilled more than 7,000 barrels of oil in the Amazon this year from at least seven leaks because of poor maintenance or vandalism, according to data from environmental regulator Oefa.
The pollution has triggered a month-long protest by indigenous communities in the region of Loreto.
Baertl said some local residents may have cut the pipeline to bring cleanup jobs to far-flung towns neglected by authorities. To prevent additional damage, Petroperu must improve community ties, Baertl said.
“Petroperu is not seen as an ally to the community, and that’s causing us problems,” Baertl said in an interview.
Petroperu will ask communities to deploy watchdog groups to safeguard the pipeline and monitor environmental impacts, Baertl said. The company also wants to coordinate with NGOs to set up programs to promote development in the region.
Baertl said one of his priorities would be to make Petroperu more environmentally responsible after Oefa ordered the company to repair or replace shoddy parts of the 40-year-old pipeline and fined it $3.5 million for “repeated and systematic failure of its environmental obligations.”
The pipeline transported less than 15,000 barrels of oil a day before the spills, but its closure has been a drag on economic growth as it has halted production from two oil blocks.
Petroperu mainly transports and commercializes oil products in Peru, a small producer of crude.
Baertl said he did not think the company was ready to take part in oil production, once a goal of the previous government.
“I’m not ruling it out, but it looks very difficult to me. We don’t have people capable of doing it and we don’t have the money,” Baertl said.
Instead, the company will focus on the $4.8 billion expansion of its Talara refinery, which is about 45 to 50 percent finished, Baertl said.
Reporting by Mitra Taj; Editing by Peter Cooney