After securing the largest award in the history of environmental litigation, a ruling this week in a federal U.S. court has severely dampened possibility that Chevron will pay $9.5 billion in compensation to Ecuadoran farmers and fishermen most affected by twenty years of unrestrained ecological desecration in the Amazon rainforest.
United States District Judge Lewis Kaplan said that the U.S. oil company was able to prove that the 2011 Ecuadoran ruling for indigenous peoples living in the forrested northeastern corner of the country was secured through fraud. The judgement is a blow to those who have been at the mercy of Chevron's massive oil-producing efforts for decades.
After striking oil in the northeast corner of Ecuador in 1967, Texaco (which merged into Chevron in 2001) struck a partnership with Petroecuador that would eventually lead to 220,000 barrel-a-day production between 1972 and 1992 in an area dubbed "Lago Agrio." As Texaco sucked and slurped up petrol from the ground at a maddening pace, it left an unparalleled trail of degredation deep inside the Amazonian rainforest, home to one of the world's most diverse, and fragile, biospheres.
In its twenty year reign of ecological destruction, Texaco spilled 16 million gallons of crude into the Amazon river–over three times as much spilled by BP into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010–and left "hundreds of toxic waste pits…and an estimated 18 billion gallons of waste, or 'produced,' water, which some tests have shown to contain possibly cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons at levels many times higher than those permitted in the US," according to the LA Times. The water sources contaminated by oil production were also those used by local indigeous groups for drinking, bathing and fishing.
In 1993, a group of lawyers representing Lago Agrio indigenous groups most affected by the pollution brought litigation against the oil conglomerate. The suit was kicked around federal trial and appeals courts in the U.S. for ten years before being sent back to an Ecuadoran court, where, in 2011, a judge ordered Chevron to pay $9.5 billion to the farmers and fishermen represented on the plaintiff side.
Kaplan's new ruling, the result of a countersuit filed by Chevron against the Amazon dwellers in the wake of the 2011 verdict, rests on allegations brought by Chevron that the lead attorney for the the plaintiff engaged in "repeated acts of fraud, bribery [and] money laundering" (a laughable charge coming from the second largest oil company in the United States) sends a message to those whose livelihoods have been uprooted by coporate malfeasance: Money and influence will always enable the rich and powerful to snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat.
Han Shan, a U.S. spokesman for the plaintiffs, issued the following statement on Kaplan's judgement:
While the Ecuadorans respect the rule of law in all countries, they do not accept this court’s jurisdiction nor this ruling. The affected communities long ago gave up hope that a U.S. court would provide them relief from Chevron’s contamination, which has taken their loved ones, poisoned their lands, and imperiled their cultures.
However, there remains hope for successful verdicts for the Ecuadoran plaintiffs in other litigation pending against Chevron in Brazil, Argentina and Canada. A Court of Appeal for Ontario ruled in December that "the 47 villagers have the right to pursue Chevron’s Canada assets," according to Bloomberg News. The other cases are pending.
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