Unocal Admits To Indonesian Oil Spill

September 26, 2002

(26 September, 2002 — Honolulu)  Environmental Defense expressed alarm at today’s news of an offshore oil spill at Unocal’s East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo operation and questioned a planned $350 million Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) loan for the expansion of the troubled operation, notorious for 30 years worth of environmental problems and human rights abuses  - including shootings and beatings in 2000 - associated with company operations.  The oil spill, which has apparently been allowed to continue for almost a month, was only announced by Unocal yesterday

“The spill and continuing surface oil slicks appear to be caused by the improper plugging and abandonment of a deepwater appraisal well which  is very difficult to repair,” said Richard Charter, Environmental Defense marine conservation advocate.  “Unocal has one of the worst environmental records on the U.S. West Coast, having triggered the 1969 four-million gallon Santa Barbara offshore blowout and spill, as well as the largest subterranean oil spill in the history of California.”  

“Unocal has a horrendous record in Alaska.  From 1997 to 2001, Unocal had 76% of all reported oil pipeline spills and only 39% of the pipeline mileage, giving it the worst operating record of any Cook Inlet watershed oil pipeline operator,” said Cook Inlet Keeper senior engineer Lois Epstein. 

According to the Indonesian mining advocacy network JATAM, Unocal’s environmental and human rights record in East Kalimantan includes forced seizure of land, pollution of rice fields and fishing grounds, acid rain as a result of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions and toxic chemical releases leading to the death of livestock.

“Given Unocal’s sordid history in East Kalimantan — including this most recent oil spill — and their track record elsewhere, OPIC should reconsider its support for the company’s development of 40 new wells and two 60 kilometer pipelines in East Kalimantan.  Any OPIC support for the expansion of this project should be of great concern to investors,” said Environmental Defense scientist, Dr. Stephanie Gorson Fried.