Venezuela and Colombia – June 5th, 2013
Though undoubtedly shocking and disconcerting, the recent Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is hardly the first incident of its kind in the region. Starting in the 1920s, American and British subsidiaries of Standard Oil of New Jersey, Gulf and Royal Dutch Shell turned environmentally pristine Lake Maracaibo (below), which empties out into the Gulf of Venezuela (above) and the Caribbean, into toxic sludge.
Travel to Lake Maracaibo today and you can still see the relics of the pioneering petroleum past: hundreds of offshore oil derricks dot the horizon as far as the eye can see. During the 1920s oil was a messy business and blow-outs, fires and fantastic gushers were a common occurrence. Just as in Louisiana today, the oil industry in Lake Maracaibo put delicate lakeshore mangroves in danger as well as tropical wildlife.
The water used by local residents for domestic uses came from the lake itself, and reportedly there was little risk of getting sick from the water as it was clean, such that one could even see the head of a coin or a needle in the water. With the arrival of the oil companies however, the water became dirty (click here for more information).