Ecuador plaintiffs appeal Chevron damages award
Plaintiffs say more than $8.6 billion is needed to clean up the rainforest that Texaco wrecked when it operated in the area during the 1970s and 1980s.
Thu, Feb 17, 2011 at 06:10 PM
OILED RAINFOREST: Actress Daryl Hannah shows her hand covered with oil in Ecuador as local Cofan Hermegildo Criollo looks on. Hanna visited Ecuador's oil region in 2007. (Photo: Dolores Ochoa/AP)
LAGO AGRIO, Ecuador - Ecuadoreans suing U.S. oil giant Chevron Corp for environmental damages on Thursday appealed a recent court ruling that awarded them $8.6 billion, claiming that more money would be needed for cleanup efforts.
Residents of Ecuador's Amazon jungle say that Texaco, which was later acquired by Chevron, dumped polluted water into their rivers and left drilling waste to fester in unlined pits, charges that the company denies.
At $8.6 billion, the damages figure is one of the biggest environmental judgments ever. But plaintiffs say more money will be needed to clean up the Rhode Island-sized swath of rainforest that they accuse Texaco of wrecking when it operated in the area during the 1970s and 1980s.
In their appeal before a three-judge panel at Sucumbios provincial court, in the heart of Ecuador's Amazon region, the plaintiffs did not say how much they are seeking in damages.
"We do not have an economic figure. It is an open petition," lead lawyer Pablo Fajardo told Reuters.
The long legal battle in Ecuador, which has spawned related actions in U.S. courts and international arbitration, is seen as a test case widely watched by international oil companies wary of precedents for other major damage claims.
Chevron inherited the case when it bought Texaco in 2001. It says it cleaned up all waste pits it was responsible for before turning the sites over to Ecuador's state-owned oil firm, Petroecuador, which still operates in the area.
Chevron says the 17-year-old legal saga has been driven more by greedy trial lawyers than concern for the environment.
Calling the charges false, Chevron says it will seek to overturn Monday's ruling by Sucumbios court judge Nicolas Zambrano that found the company responsible for pollution.
Resolution could still be years away, and few analysts expect the company to pay anything soon, if at all. Chevron's stock price was not hit by the February 14 ruling, as investors had widely expected the verdict.
Company lawyers filed a 31-page request with the court on Thursday, asking to clarify points included in its ruling.
"Our filing today has the same effect as an appeal in that it suspends the enforcement or execution of the verdict," Chevron spokesman James Craig told Reuters.
"The judge must resolve our request for clarification of his ruling and, upon doing that, the company will have 72 hours to file its appeal," he said.
Zambrano's tiny courtroom is in a rundown building in an Amazon town called Lago Agrio near the Colombian border.
In its request for clarification of his Monday ruling, Chevron wants to know more about the formula that Zambrano used to come up with his damages assessment.
The company is also asking the judge if he viewed outtakes from the 2009 documentary "Crude" that were subpoenaed by Chevron as part of U.S. court proceedings related to the case.
The company says the clips, which did not appear in the film, show evidence of fraud on the part of the plaintiffs.
(Additional reporting by Alexandra Valencia in Quito, writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Cynthia Osterman)
Copyright 2011 Reuters Environmental Online Report