Chevron in Ecuador

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LA Times Blasts Chevron for "Shifty" Litigation Tactics

Negative Publicity Continues to Cast Shadow Over Oil Giant

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Los Angeles (October 5, 2009) – Chevron's attempt to move the battle over its $27 billion environmental liability in Ecuador to a secret international tribunal where indigenous groups would not be represented has been blasted by the Los Angeles Times, which characterized it as a "shifty shifting of venue" designed to avoid accountability for the company's devastation of the Amazon rainforest.

"Let's be clear," read the editorial, titled "Chevron's shifty shifting of venue," published on Oct. 2. "The case wasn't brought by Ecuador. It was filed by people who say they have suffered serious personal harm, illness and environmental damage as a result of oil operations in their homelands. From the very beginning, Chevron has been trying to turn the focus away from these people and to pin the responsibility for the pollution on the government of Ecuador."

The editorial also criticized the Chevron Corporation for "shopping... to yet another court" in an effort that "shut(s) out the private citizens who brought the suit."

The Los Angeles Times is the largest newspaper in Chevron's home state of California.

The editorial follows Chevron's announcement that it has filed a claim against Ecuador's government under a U.S.-Ecuador trade pact. The claim, if it proceeds, will be heard by a secret tribunal with no provision to accommodate the 30,000 residents of Ecuador's Amazon region who live in the area where the oil giant dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste when Texaco (now Chevron) operated an oil concession from 1964 to 1990.

An independent, court-appointed expert has estimated that damages in the case could be assessed as high as $27.3 billion, and a judgment is expected in a few months.

The editorial notes that the underlying lawsuit is being heard in Ecuador's courts because Chevron argued in the U.S. federal court – where the case was originally filed in 1993 – that the claims "rightly belonged" in Ecuador. In 2001, after Chevron filed 14 expert affidavits praising the Ecuadorian courts and agreeing to jurisdiction in Ecuador, a U.S. federal judge shifted the venue.

It was only after scientific evidence gathered during the trial in Ecuador began to demonstrate that 100% of Chevron's 378 former production sites are extensively contaminated that the company began a campaign to discredit Ecuador's courts, trying to create "evidence" that could be used in the international arbitration.

The editorial said Chevron's "real problem" has nothing to do with jurisdictional or procedural issues. "The issue is the devastating contamination in the Ecuadorean Amazon, the individuals whose lives have been affected and the importance of accountability," the editorial said. "No matter where this case is tried, that's not going to disappear."

Under the rules of the trade arbitration process, which have been criticized as being biased in favor of investors, representatives of the indigenous and farmer communities impacted by Chevron's operations will have no right to appear or even be notified of the proceedings.

"Chevron is trying to manipulate the international arbitration process to strip away the legal claims of thousands of persons who are owed an answer in the trial the company wanted," said Andrew Woods, an American legal advisor to the plaintiffs. "This is profoundly unfair and implicates serious public policy issues."

The Los Angeles Times editorial follows a spate of unflattering publicity highlighting Chevron's problems in Ecuador, which has been called the "Amazon Chernobyl" by various experts. Reports about the pollution have appeared this year on 60 Minutes, and in print in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post, among others.

A May 15, 2009 New York Times article found that "evidence of the contamination is unavoidable at well sites near Lago Agrio and other towns in the region....Some pools of waste dug by Texaco combining noxious drilling mud and crude oil still lie exposed under the sun, seeping into nearby water systems....the legal battle is denting the company's environmental image."

An April 28, 2009 Washington Post article explained how Texaco failed to use in Ecuador the same safety precautions it was adhering to in the U.S. at the time.