Canadian court decision significant for Ecuadoreans in fight against Chevron

A recent decision by the Supreme Court of Canada is “incredibly significant” for Amazon natives who have fought for decades to try to collect compensation for massive oil pollution damages by Texaco, which later became Chevron, a member of an organization supporting natives said.

“You now have a Canadian system that says that the Ecuadoreans are welcomed to Canada to attempt to enforce a verdict against Chevron,” Kevin Koenig, Ecuador program director at Amazon Watch, said by telephone.

The Canadian court ruling issued Sept. 4 opens the way for Ecuadoreans to pursue in the district of Ontario the collection of a $9.5 billion award the Ecuador court ordered in 2013 after decades of trials.

“What is incredibly problematic for Chevron is that it has assets in Canada, about $15 billion,” Koenig said.

Compensation could become available to Ecuadoreans within two years, Koenig estimated.

Attempts throughout the week to try to get comment from Chevron failed as their website section for journalist contact was “under maintenance.”

Natives have long claimed that Texaco built a crude oil operation in Ecuador decades ago using standards different from those in the United States. It did not re-inject water used for oil extraction in wells, it dumped oil in rivers and did not close wells, Koenig said.

Natives filed their first lawsuit in the United States in the early 1990s, but then Texaco argued year after year that the lawsuit should take place in Ecuador, Koenig said.

Around the start of the past decade, Chevron bought Texaco. At about the same time the United States judiciary system said that the trial should take place in Ecuador, forcing villagers to start new proceedings in Ecuador in 2003, Koenig said.

The trial in Ecuador lasted nearly a decade and in 2012 a local court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. A year later the main court of Ecuador ratified the ruling, though halved the compensation to $9.5 billion. By that time, however, Chevron had pulled all its assets from Ecuador.

“That has forced the Ecuadoreans to try to go around the world to collect,” Koenig said.

Chevron claims it already cleaned up the area but natives dispute the claim.

“In 1995 Texaco conducted an environmental audit that showed there was contamination and they spent $40 million. After the clean up it was obvious it was a joke. Just dig in the dirt and there is oil,” Koenig said.

“The pollution had a major impact in health causing cancers, respiratory ailments, miscarriages,” still affecting 30,000 people, Koenig said.

Asked about Chevron reports that a New York judge recently found the Ecuadorean process fraudulent, Koenig said that the State of New York appellate court is reviewing that at the request of Ecuadorean plaintiffs. The judge never visited Ecuador or even understands Spanish, Koenig said. Natives are confident that the judge ruling will be reversed by the appellate court, though it does not matter to plaintiffs as they are not seeking any compensation in the United States, Koenig said. Compensations efforts are centered in Canada, Brazil and Argentina.