The Peruvian authorities have arrested a gang accused of pipeline sabotage. The gang, Los Crudos, appears to have links to the state-owned oil company, local community leaders and companies profiting from clean-up contracts.
The Public Ministry announced the arrest of 15 alleged members in Los Crudos earlier in October. A team focused on organised crime accused the gang of damaging Petroperu’s North Peruvian Pipeline (ONP) in Loreto.
The police raided 20 properties and five vehicles.
They arrested two Petroperu officials, Marcelino Javier Gutiérrez Neyra and Arnaldo Zapata Silva. They also arrested two community leaders, from the San Pedro and Nueva Esperanza groups.
A statement from Petroperu said authorities had arrested two of its workers. The two workers were a pipeline area supervisor and a community relations coordinator.
The company said it was working with the authorities and was focused on punishing those responsible for the attacks. The ONP, it said, was a critical asset of Peru that must be protected.
A local report claimed that another two of those arrested orchestrated the pipeline leaks in order to benefit from the repairs. Hildrebrandt en sus trece named José Sánchez Tirado and his wife, María Guadalupe García Romero, as being involved with a number of companies providing clean-up operations. The two were arrested in early October.
The statement on the arrests said Los Crudos co-ordinated with local community leaders to carry out pipelines. The aim was to “obtain labour and economic benefits” including contract awards.
A local NGO has said the arrest of the community leaders was “racist, colonial and violent mistreatment”.
Local newspaper La Republica noted a number of those arrested were from local communities, with concerns expressed about a lack of evidence.
Petroperu most recently flagged a leak on the ONP in September, in the Urarinas district, of Loreto province. The company said saboteurs had targeted the pipe 14 times in 2022 and, thus far in 2023, another 10 times.
The authorities have arrested and prosecuted people before for theft from the ONP. In July 2022, a court convicted members of Los Paisas de Talara, with the leader receiving a 29-year sentence. This group stole oil for local illicit refining, with protection from a local police force.
The ONP is 1,106 km. It carries crude from fields in the Peruvian jungle to the Bayóvar Terminal, on the north coast of Peru.
PetroTal is one company that may benefit from improved service on the ONP. The company said that, while the pipeline is currently out of operation, it expects it will resume operations once the Talara refinery is fully commissioned. Once the facility is up and running, “there could be progress towards reactivation of the ONP”, PetroTal said.
There are a number of reasons that AIM-listed PetroTal has not been delivering crude to the pipeline. In addition to the sabotage and social issues, the company said earlier this year Petroperu’s credit line was not available.
In August, PetroTal said outstanding receivables from Petroperu were $22 million, for oil deliveries into the ONP in early 2022. It does not expect any sales via ONP this year.
Community relations continue to be a challenge for the oil industry in Peru. Petroperu noted earlier this month that a farming community in Loreto had blocked a pumping station on the ONP and boats on the Marañón River. The community has issued demands over plans for a health centre. Petroperu denied any link with its operations.
Given the arrest of local community members for alleged sabotage of the ONP, it seems likely that pipeline problems will continue.