From the Oil Well That Changed the Ecuadorian Amazon to a Movement for Clean Water

The Lago Agrio 1 oil well

Photo: Mitch Anderson

By Alex Goff, Field Coordinator The ClearWater team of coordinators and technicians of the Siona, Secoya, Kichwa, Cofán, and Waorani nationalities pose in front of the first oil well drilled in the northern Ecuadorian Amazon. The Lago Agrio 1 well was perforated in 1967 by the Texaco-Gulf consortium. It was here that the first barrels of crude were extracted from under Amazonian soil in Ecuador. The decades of industrial activity that followed completely transformed the region. Reckless oil extraction, first by Texaco and later by state oil company Petroecuador, contaminated fresh water sources and created a public health crisis in indigenous and farmer communities. The indigenous nationalities' ways of life were irreversibly altered and their territories were greatly reduced. This well represents the destructive force of industrial development that year-by-year reaches the last untouched areas of the globe. Yet, it is also because of this well that the ClearWater project exists. Indigenous peoples of the northern Ecuadorian Amazon have demonstrated the ability to maintain their cultural identity in the face of dramatic change and to adapt in order to survive. ClearWater exemplifies the capability of the indigenous nationalities to organize and overcome cultural differences to lead a movement for health and cultural survival. External forces resulted in this oil well, but the solutions to the problems this well and the thousands that followed it caused must come from the communities themselves, on their own terms.