Petroecuador, an Ecuadorian oil firm, claims it is trying to close gas flares in the Amazon to meet a court deadline, but progress is too sluggish for local communities who claim the flares cause cancer and other ailments.

Last year, a provincial tribunal in Sucumbios province ordered Petroecuador and a few private operators to cease burning off natural gas released during oil production where there is no equipment to catch it in populated areas by March 2023.

According to the World Bank, flare-ups produced 400 million tonnes of greenhouse gases every year, and academics have warned of health risks ranging from cancer to lung ailments.

The state-owned corporation is looking to find a commercial partner to invest in the equipment required to collect the 65 million cubic feet of gas produced daily by flares, which blaze above green trees.

Petroecuador said 15 entities, including Promigas SA (PMG.CN) and Gran Tierra Energy, had showed interest (GTE.TO).

“Part of the capturing process is trying to gradually and progressively eliminate the flares within the court’s timeframe,” said Jaime Garzon, Petroecuador’s director of projects, to Reuters.

Garzon stated that the company intends to begin halting flares in inhabited areas in September in order to meet the deadline, and to turn off rural flares within two or three years, well ahead of the court’s eight-year deadline.

Former Energy Minister Fernando Santos told Reuters that if the proper business wins the deal, such capture infrastructure should be up and running soon.

“It’s more a technical question than an investment one and if an experienced company wins the tender, they won’t have any problem,” he said.

Petroecuador now processes 35 million cubic feet of byproduct gas per day for domestic consumption or energy at its facilities, but the company expects to ultimately treat all gas generated by its 391 flares, saving $400 million per year.

Ecuador’s energy ministry apologized to communities in April for the delays in extinguishing the flares.

According to the energy ministry, its private operators have 66 flares, but the bulk of the gas is already caught for power production.

Change is coming too slowly for people of Sucumbios and Orellana provinces.

“This is going to kill us sooner,” said 71-year-old farmer Fanny Tufino, whose coffee crops are only 150 meters (500 feet) away from a flare. “It affects our health a lot, for me it affected my vision.”

Source: Reuters

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