This project explores the experience of life-with-oil in the city of Esmeraldas, Ecuador. A city of over 160,000 people, Esmeraldas is home to the largest state-owned refinery in Ecuador.
Environmental injustices associated with the refinery are common in Esmeraldas, pointing to the contradictions of co-existing with this oil complex. The smell of burnt plastic, skin rashes, and chronic respiratory illnesses are part of “normal life” in Esmeraldas, as are the discharge of carcinogens, corrosion inhibitors, bactericides, and radioactive products into local rivers. The refinery also stands as a source of jobs and resources to fund medical, educational, and community building efforts, which complicates its relationship with residents. It is a symbol of “wealth in this world of racism,” a young Afro-Ecuadorian man reflected. In Esmeraldas, where unemployment rates surpass fifty-percent, these are powerful statements on the experience of oil and offer insights into how people live oil-afflicted places.