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Ecuador to clean up decades-old Amazon oil pollution

By UPI Staff
Ecuador to clean up decades-old Amazon oil pollution
Rene Perez, vocalist of the Puerto Rican band Calle 13, gets his hand stained with oil in the province of Sucumbios, Ecuador, in May 2014. Photo by Jose Jacome/EPA-EFE

March 6 (UPI) -- Ecuador will clean areas of its Amazon region that have been polluted during decades of work by Texaco and Petroecuador in a move criticized by activists who fear too little will be done.

After 26 years of legal actions in Ecuador, the United States, Canada and Europe that failed to result in any significant cleanup effort of areas affected by crude oil spills, Ecuadorean authorities announced a plan to spend $10 million to start cleaning up pollution and containing the damage, El Telegrafo reported.

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"It is a request from the president [Lenin Moreno] that we remedy that," Energy Minister Carlos Perez recently said.

The cleanup has been slow. Environmental groups say what has been done is not nearly enough, blaming Texaco and the state-owned Ecuadorean oil company, as well as Chevron, which acquired Texaco in 2001, for the lack of action. The groups also say that the $10 million dollars is a fraction of the $12 billion courts have estimated it will take to clean up the damage.

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Legal disputes around the cleanup started in the 1990s, after the handover of Texaco's properties as part of an oil consortium there dating to the mid-1960s. The lawsuits accuse Texaco -- and now Chevron, which owns them -- of dumping billions of gallons of oil waste, damaging the environment and culture, and causing health issues, including cancer, for indigenous people there.

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Texaco in 1995 reached an agreement to fund a $40 million remediation program following its work there, with the Ecuadorian government in 1998 telling the company it had completed the program.

With the acquisition of Texaco in 2001, Chevron has also been party to the suits. The Hague in its 2018 ruling affirmed that Texaco had complied with the 1995 agreement, and in 1998 Ecuador executed a final release agreement.

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Chevron disputes claims of pollution caused by Texaco's work.

Ecuador completed some cleanup, but environmentalists say not much was done and that the situation has been made worse.

In 2011, an Ecuadorean court issued a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron that was overturned in 2014 by a U.S. appeals court. The U.S. appeals court held that bribery and fraud, among other charges, affected the outcome of the 2011 trial. Appeals courts in Argentina, Canada, Gibraltar and Brazil have also refused to enforce the 2011 ruling.

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The 2011 ruling has since been upheld by the Ecuadorean courts, but because Chevron does not operate in the country, suits have been filed in other countries where they do have operations.

In September 2018, an arbitration court in The Hague found that Ecuador violated a treaty with the United States by allowing its courts to issue the 2011 ruling against Chevron, the Wall Street Journal reported, and echoed the U.S. appeals court judgment that the 2011 Ecuadorean trial had been marred by fraud and bribery. The Hague also affirmed the earlier ruling that Texaco had satisfied it's requirements in the country in 1998 with the release from Ecuador.

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Environmental group Make Chevron Clean Up said the cleanup effort announced in recent days is insufficient because it only features $10 million in funding, whereas remediation costs have been estimated at $12 billion.

"This new fund is pathetic given the magnitude of the damage and is obviously just the latest attempt by Chevron to duck its clean-up obligations to the Indigenous peoples of Ecuador as imposed by the court system," Agustin Salazar, the Ecuadorian lawyer for Indigenous communities in the area that have been affected by the pollution, said in a press release issued by Make Chevron Clean Up.

The Amazon region, where multiple water streams are interconnected, is vulnerable to crude oil pollution. Other areas of the Amazon, including those in Peru, have also seen oil-related pollution for decades.

A previous version of this story misidentified the results of court judgments related to the actions of Texaco/Chevron and environmental damage in Ecuador.

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