Monday, September 1, 2008

Lovable Lago

One of the aims of this blog has been to gather together diverse links and articles concerning the both mycoremediation and the continuing oil contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon. These subjects have ranged from updates on related political developments both here in Ecuador and in the United States, as well as background information on the science of remediation. My goal has also been to make this blog interesting for both those without a background in biology and for those with a keen interest in mycoremediation. For the latter group, here is a link to the report prepared for the Washington State Department of Transportation entitled "Mycoremediation of Aged Petroleum Hydrocarbon Contaminants in Soil." This report, prepared by Dr. Susan A. Thomas (et al.) is now 10 years old and for that reason, I can only assume, it has now been released on the web. The WSDOT report details the experimental process that Paul Stamets popularized in his book Mycelium Running.

Dr. Thomas works at Battelle Laboratories directing the research of many mycoremediaiton applications and has projects running that include fungal remediation of sediments contaminated with both petroleum hydrocarbons and benzene. Thomas holds a joint mycoremediation patent with Paul Stamets and scientists Jack Word and Meg Pinza.

We just returned from our recent trip to Lago Agrio and I seem to have cultivated an affection for that gritty, complicated, border boomtown. Most gringos like myself use Lago as an outpost to launch themselves into the nearby jungle reserve, Cuyabeno. I believe this is so because the guidebooks do Lago and injustice, describing the place as rife with dangers and empty of charm. Lago is in a soupy-hot tropical region prone to sudden downpours that I have found myself sometimes praying for. There is a significant Colombian population, due to its proximity to Ecuador’s northern neighbor and in my opinion, this contingent has had a positive impact on the cuisine, with sweet, buttery rolls called pan de bono.

I’ve spent enough time in Lago to know that if I need to make fast friends with a reserved petrolero while poking around a contaminated site, mentioning my penchant for the local gut-rot chichicara is a sure-fire strategy. Women in Lago Agrio have abandoned the traditional conservative dress of most of Ecuador for something more akin to the fashion of Spring Break—perhaps due to the concentration of “Night Clubs”, or perhaps just because it is so persistently, impossibly, sweltering. After a predictably long day working out a our field site, invariably consisting of some form of manual labor, we can look forward to cold Pilsner, unidentified jungle meat, and perhaps some salsa dancing if we are up to it.

The latest news in this region is the recent spillage of 10,000 gallons of crude oil and waste water into the the Agua Rico River in the Shushifindi region of Sucumbios Province (the same province as Lago). In and around Lago Agrio, spills are so commonplace that they only make the international press when they reach ridiculous proportions. For an example, just down the road from our field site in Lago Agrio, we encountered a ruptured oil pipeline that had been crudely and haphazardly repaired with the trunk of a small tree hammered into the pipe. The pipeline was actively leaking what we calculated as roughly 155 gallons of crude per day, directly into the stream underneath. Donald called it in and we went on with our day.