Amazon groups in Ecuador seek to block Chevron from taking environmental suit to arbitration

Friday, January 15, 2010

Groups ask court to block Chevron arbitration bid

NEW YORK — Groups accusing Chevron of contaminating a huge swath of rainforest in Ecuador are asking a U.S. court to block the oil company from taking the dispute to international arbitration.

The groups filed a lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court in New York in which they claim Chevron Corp. broke a promise to submit to jurisdiction in Ecuador over the groups’ lawsuit against the oil company and abide by any ruling.

The plaintiffs say a special master in Ecuador has ruled Chevron might be liable for up to $27 billion in damages. The Ecuadorean trial court has not yet ruled.

Chevron, based in San Ramon, Calif., inherited the case when it bought Texaco in 2001. It has denied any wrongdoing.

The case was brought by 30,000 inhabitants of a rainforest where illnesses have been blamed on contamination from oil drilling that they Texaco caused when it operated oil fields in the Amazon from 1964 to 1990.

The groups say Chevron’s bid to take the case to arbitration is an attempt to avoid accountability for the pollution.

The case began in U.S. federal court in 1993. It was sent to Ecuador at Chevron’s request in 2002.

In September, Chevron asked an international arbitration court at The Hague to hear the case. It said Ecuador, not the company, is responsible for any damages because the government released Texaco from liability in 1995.

The plaintiffs say Texaco lied about the cleanup to get the release and that the release was obtained fraudulently.

The Ecuadorean government filed a separate case in December with a U.S. court to try and stop the arbitration proceedings.

The lawsuit comes five months after Chevron, the second largest U.S. oil company, released videos made by two businessman that it says shows a bribery scheme possibly involving the judge overseeing the case.

Ecuador says it is investigating; the judge has stepped aside from handling the case and has denied doing anything wrong. The videos do not show him accepting or asking for a bribe.

The businessmen were seeking remediation contracts in the area where Texaco operated.

The groups suing Chevron have questioned whether the videos are authentic. They also want to know what role Chevron played in making them.

Chevron has said the videos are real and that it did nothing to get the businessmen to make them.

will not be displayed