A black spot sprouting from the earth is the image that rests in the memory of Colombians when recalling the emergence of the sector of La Lizama. A mixture of oil, mud, gases and water that impregnated everything in its path in an area of 24 kilometers.
Bodies of water and vegetation adjacent to the streams La Lizama, Muerto and part of the Sogamoso River were contaminated by the oil outcropping from the well La Lizama 158, a property owned by Ecopetrol located about 300 meters from La Fortuna, the jurisdiction of the municipality of Barrancabermeja (Santander).
This tragic event caused the death of more than 2,490 individuals of wildlife, as well as the displacement of thousands of them from their natural habitat. More than 6,600 animals, including mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds, were treated during the 29 days of the contingency and then taken to a transit site for recovery and subsequent reincorporation to wildlife.
This environmental and social disaster lasted one year on March 2 and changed the lives of more than 450 families that were affected.
According to the biologist Edy Rodríguez, the ecosystem located in the sector of the streams La Lizama and Muerto shows an impressive resilience, which in nature consists of the ability of habitats to withstand certain disorders and recover.
“To a large extent, the speed with which this restoration process has taken place is due to human assistance during and after the emergency, but also to the ability of the same nature to reinvent itself,” said Rodríguez. who in turn explained that an example of this is the visible proliferation of several species of insects belonging to the family of Lepidoptera (butterflies) and odonates (dragonflies), which are indicators of the change in the state of conservation of the bodies of water and the surrounding vegetation.
A year after the oil spill, families in the area still regret what happened and adapt to the new conditions of this habitat under restoration. Eder Manuel López, one of the guardians of the Cabildo Verde reserve, who started working as a rescuer and wildlife keeper after the emergency, said that the challenge was great and commented that the ravine known as Caño Muerto was a fish farm important for the area because it allowed the daily sustenance to the inhabitants of the sector.
Lopez said that even the cattle were affected by the outcrop because the water remains contaminated and traces of crude are still evident. For this reason, several of their friends and neighbors who lived off fishing had to adapt to the situation and perform other tasks, such as agriculture and livestock.
Working for the recovery, Lopez explained that one of his tasks is to recreate the natural habitats of certain species through some modules called palisades, platforms that allow fish to shelter and protect their eggs, turtles to sunbathe and little by little recover the balance of the ecosystem.
According to Isauro Vega, technician of the reserve, whose life at the age of 35 years has passed in the sector of La Lizama, although it was not directly affected, he witnessed how his neighbors lived through the emergency and explain how livestock and fishing continue being the sectors most affected by the oil spill.
The work carried out by hundreds of people, including technicians, professionals, volunteers and members of the community, allowed thousands of wild animals to recover and return to their habitat in better conditions.
“The first phase of immediate assistance consisted in the capture of all the wild animals that were associated with the streams of La Lizama and Cano Muerto. From there they were taken to the attention and assessment center. After the diagnoses made by the veterinarians, the type of care they required, they were hydrated or the cleaning tasks were carried out, they were kept under observation and finally, they were moved to the reserve area in Sabana de Torres “, explained Wolfgang Buitrago Gonzalez, biologist of the Cabildo Verde.
Likewise, the second phase was based on monitoring and monitoring the fauna of the streams. “The animals did not continue to be taken to the reserve area, because for two months the contractors had advanced in the cleaning work and the streams were already in good condition, so we decided that the fauna should stay in the area. From that second phase all the work was done in situ, the wild animals were weighed, measured, followed up until November 23, 2018, “explained Buitrago.
For the experts, with the implementation of the third phase, environmental recovery or biological recovery began, with actions aimed at recreating the habitats that were lost during the emergency and cleanup process, which was very invasive. Much vegetation cover and several structures where the animals lived were lost by all these tasks. “What we are currently doing is to recover that through structures that we artificially create as close to the natural, as trellises, Palisades and the perches that allow animals to get there, take shelter, reproduce and look for food,” concluded Buitrago.
It is noteworthy that Cabildo Verde is one of the Magdalena Medio organizations most active in terms of wildlife conservation. With over 15 years of experience has been characterized by its work of reincorporation, care and conservation of animals.
Although the figure so far has only been quantified in environmental and social effects, for Rafael Espinosa Rozo, Ecopetrol’s regional vice president of production, this event, beyond the environmental tragedy, was transformed into an opportunity for future development for the community, with the implications for the fauna and flora of the sector of La Lizama and the tributaries of the Sogamoso River.
Espinosa assures that the social responsibility of Ecopetrol remains, however, the control entities will be responsible for determining the economic, social and environmental costs and impacts of what happened in La Lizama 158, which after one year of the event does not yield clear figures about a disaster that could have been avoided.
According to Espinosa, mitigation plans and joint campaigns have allowed the recovery of the Sogamoso River. This is evidenced by the 2,100 laboratory samples taken from the different spectra of ground and surface water, soil and air, which allows him to say that the environmental situation has gradually been recovering. “In the subject of fauna we have permanent monitoring and more than 2,100 sightings. This is an indicator that guarantees that the species are again in the area. ”
The La Lizama 158 well was abandoned on July 8, 2018, technically and under normal operating conditions, and recovery work continues to be carried out on the ecosystem, which includes monitoring, the reincorporation of wildlife and cleaning of the water sources of the region.