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Media Contact:

Justin Wasser, 202.753.7016, jwasser@earthworks.org

Panama City, Panama – Today, coinciding with Latin America and the Caribbean Climate week, Earthworks is releasing the findings of two major investigations of air pollution and oil & gas impacts on communities in Argentina and Brazil and video storytelling projects related to both investigations. The findings conclude that methane and health-hazardous volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions are not well-regulated and are polluting across the oil and gas supply chain in both countries, placing human health and the environment at risk. 

Put in human terms, this means government policies supporting the expansion of oil and gas are increasing the likelihood of health impacts such as effects on the nervous system, organ damage (including kidneys, brain, liver, and lungs), and various cancers – often on historically marginalized communities. The climate harms of this pollution include increased exposure to extreme weather events, increased incidence of infectious diseases, degradation of quality of air, food, and water, increased conflict and resource scarcity, and stresses to mental health and well-being.

The investigations, however, did also capture the spirit of hope and the power of resilience from  people most impacted by the expansion of fossil fuels infrastructure who are resisting and demanding an alternative and just approach for their communities.

“The findings of this investigation challenge prevailing narratives often repeated by government leaders by visually documenting industry’s harmful impact on local communities and the environment.” said Patricia Rodriguez, Earthworks International OGI Analyst and Advocate. “The conclusions of our investigation demand a re-evaluation of long-term energy strategy in Argentina and Brazil and suggest the best ways forward should start from within these communities up.”

Earthworks field advocates operate optical gas imaging (OGI) cameras, state-of-the-art and independently verified technologies, capable of detecting volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including known carcinogens, and greenhouse gases (especially methane). The cameras help identify emissions, leaks, and events that occur during routine oil and gas operations, or because of faulty equipment, accidents, and intentional releases by operators. Every Earthworks Field Advocate is also certified to analyze the data OGI cameras capture.

In Argentina, Earthworks joined a delegation to the heart of Argentina’s energy sector in Vaca Muerta and also documented pollution harms at Buenos Aires Dock Sub refineries and Bahia Blanca’s energy hubs. OGI surveys showed medium to high levels of emissions at three fracking locations, six compressor or storage facilities, eight processing plants, four thermoelectric plants, and three refineries, many of which were very close to homes.

In Brazil, Earthworks joined journalists and advocates with Instituto Internacional Arayara to traverse the vast terrains of Brazil, including northeastern and southern states, and Rio de Janeiro. Earthworks documented evidence of pollution harms from companies like Petrobras, 3R Energy, and Carmo Energy and captured powerful stories of resistance from Indigenous, Black, and local communities who stand at the frontlines of fights for a better life.

“They want to exterminate the Anacé, but what we need are public policies that for instance prohibit and remove [outside projects], we need to have prior consultation, and we have a protocol of consultation for our people [using] our own methodology,” said Chief Roberto Marques of the Taba dos Anacé Reservation in Ceará, Brazil, describing the resistance to the presence of coal and gas-fired thermoelectrics, steel and other industries near Pecém, Ceará as nothing short of existential. “They don’t want to accept that we know how to map our own communities.’

Beginning in early 2023, Earthworks launched an ambitious project to expand its Energy Field Investigations program internationally. Earthworks is not new to documenting pollution outside of the United States using sophisticated optical gas imaging cameras, having previously conducted investigations in Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, England, and Canada. However, this new program is the first commitment for more consistent monitoring of major oil & gas projects and support for communities’ resistance to industry harms internationally.

“Earthworks Energy Field Program is about centering people, health, communities, and justice in the transition from harmful energy practices of yesterday and today toward a clean energy future,” said Rachel Kerr, Earthworks Energy Program Director. “With cameras that make visible pollution that cannot be seen by the naked eye, our Field Advocates are working with frontline communities to demand accountability and create a healthier future.”

Patricia Rodriguez, hired by Earthworks to lead the effort, worked previously as an educator for 15 years teaching and building transnational solidarity, and doing environmental and immigration advocacy in favor of the alternative and ecological visions of impacted grassroots communities. Patricia grew up in Chile and then Brazil and has done solidarity work and research with campesino, Indigenous, Black and working class communities in Colombia, and also in El Salvador, Brasil, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico and the Mexico-U.S. borderlands.

“The most powerful aspect of my work is hearing of efforts to protect territories and deal with the impacts of climate crisis in a local knowledge-based and collective way,” said Rodriguez. “I think this is what holds the potential for truly transformative changes.”

Earthworks has also conducted field investigations in Colombia this year. The findings of that trip will be released in advance of the Conference of Parties, known as COP28, later this Fall along with partners in Colombia. Earthworks has also recently joined the Mexican Alliance against Fracking in Veracruz and Puebla in Mexico and will be supporting communities in Brazil next month in efforts to raise awareness of the harms of hydrocarbons using the storytelling videos released today.

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