The End of an Era: The Eighteen-Year Court Case between Ecuador and Chevron


Damage done by oil-drilling in the Oriente.
Scientists survey damage done by oil-drilling in the Oriente.

 For decades in the 1900s, Texaco (now under Chevron) extracted oil from the Ecuadorian Amazon. The environmental and social consequences of this enterprise include thousands of open toxic waste pits, over 18 billion gallons of toxic waste and elevated cancer/miscarriage rates with deaths in the thousands. Much of the region, known as the Oriente, has been left destitute and Chevron’s actions in the area have been repeatedly cited as human rights abuses by Amnesty International. While the people of the Ecuadorian Amazon sued for the environmental damages in 1993, the Ecuador Chevron lawsuit is ongoing and is now the largest environmental lawsuit in the world with damages totaling up to $113 billion. A decision is expected in the next few months.

A Look Back

The nature of the long-winded lawsuit lies in a series of controversies over ownership of damage. Chevron initially claimed to have completed liability work in the 1998, work which exempted it from future damage costs. Completed liability work however would not have released Chevron from individual claims, which will be paid if Ecuador wins the lawsuit[i]. More currently, two Chevron employees are being held under criminal indictment for fraud related to false certification documents for the purported 1990s clean-up. Recent evidence indicates that less than 1% of Texaco sites were actually cleaned-up and much of it was done in careless ways.[ii]
Throughout the case’s sixteen-year history, Chevron repeatedly brought up accusations of corruption in the Ecuadorian legal system. Many of these were proven unfounded but did serve to greatly delay decisions. Most notably, in 2009, Chevron accused Ecuadorian officials of being involved in a bribery scheme, based on a series of possibly incriminating tapes turned in by concerned citizens. However, investigations into the two citizens who illegally recorded the conversations found one to be a long-time Chevron employee and the other a convicted felon and prominent marijuana drug trafficker. A myriad of other claims over unfair trials and corruption color the case.

The Case Today

A recent, 2010 court decision allowed Chevron access to raw footage of the documentary, “Crude”, which followed Ecuador’s efforts for over three years. While this decision has been condemned by groups advocating first amendment rights, including The New York Times, certain statements made by the plaintiffs, possibly taken out of context, will likely aid follow-up suits in favor of Chevron. In other related suits, the New York Supreme Court is considering Chevron’s claim that all possible damages should Ecuador lose the case, are the responsibility of Ecuador’s leading oil company, Petroecuador, which took over drilling in the country after Texaco.
As of December 17th 2010, the original case dating back to 1993 has been closed and a decision is expected in the next few months. Ecuador’s ongoing campaign is supported by Amnesty International, Al Gore, Amazon Watch and many others. Because appeals are expected to follow a decision in favor of either side, take advantage of this time to take action.

Take Action

Visit: to write to Chevron and to find out more.


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