It seems after over 14 years in and out of US and Ecuadorian courts we are finally nearing the end of one of the most dramatic environmental court cases ever.
For the last 14 years 30,000 indigenous people and Amazonian settlers have been trying to take a class action against one of the world’s biggest oil companies, Chevron for dumping 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into swamps creeks and rivers around the remote Ecuadorian oil town Lago Agrio between 1964 and 1992. The amount of oil and toxics spilled has been described as 30 times greater that the amount spilled during the Exxon Valdez disaster and possibly the second worst environmental catastrophe in history after Chernobyl
“Four indigenous groups claim they are on the verge of extinction due to the contamination, and several peer-reviewed academic studies in evidence at the trial have found skyrocketing rates of cancer in the region in Ecuador where Chevron operated.”
Interestingly the claimants are not suing for damages, just to have their corner of Amazon cleaned up (at an estimated cost of US$ 6 billion).
Chevron is however denying the claims. This from Vanity Fair earlier this year:
“It denies that the judge is fair, denies that the plaintiffs have legitimate complaints, denies that their soil and water samples are meaningful, denies that the methods the company used to extract oil in the past were substandard, denies that it contaminated the forest, denies that the forest is contaminated, denies that there is a link between the drinking water and high rates of cancer, leukemia, birth defects, and skin disease, denies that unusual health problems have been demonstrated—and, for added measure, denies that it bears responsibility for any environmental damage that might after all be found to exist. If Chevron can convince the court of the validity of even a few of those points, it will win the case and leave town.”
This, as Vanity Fair notes, is a valid financial strategy given that cleaning up the mess could cost US$6 billion. So delaying any payment by slowing the court down for a few years, with over 200,000 pages of evidence, means that $6 billion can earn a very tidy sum of interest, even if the case is lost. A judicial decision is expected in a few months.