Scientist Recommends Petroecuador Face Pollution Trial

By Gonzalo Solano, Associated Press
29 October 2003

Lago Agrio, Ecuador - A Spanish scientist working with plaintiffs in a lawsuit accusing Texaco of polluting part of Ecuador's Amazon jungle said Wednesday that the company's former partner - state-owned Petroecuador - should also face trial.

The lawsuit alleges that Texaco chose to save money by dumping 18.5 billion gallons of wastewater brought up during drilling into hundreds of open pits and streams instead of reinjecting it deep underground.

The plaintiffs want San Ramon, Calif.-based ChevronTexaco to pay to clean up contamination and provide medical care for people harmed by pollution. Texaco merged with ChevronTexaco in 2001.

"It seems logical to me that the next step in this process of contamination trials would be Petroecuador," Miguel San Sebastian told The Associated Press in an interview.

Petroecuador was the majority shareholder in an oil production consortium in which Texaco participated between 1972 to 1992 in Ecuador's Amazon rainforest.

San Sebastian said that a trial against Petroecuador would deter future pollution since the state-owned company is still using open pits while Texaco no longer operates in Ecuador.

San Sebastian began health studies in the 1990s of people living in polluted areas near this ramshackle jungle town, some 175 kilometers (110 miles) northeast of Quito.

He said his study, which was to be submitted to the court on Wednesday, found higher cancer rates among people living amid contamination.

Cancer rates for men were 40 percent higher than normal and 60 percent above normal for women, he said. The most common forms of cancer found were of the stomach, throat, skin, uterus and lymphatic glands, he said.

"For us, the data is strong enough to indicate that in the areas where there is oil production, something bad is happening ... that requires urgent environmental remediation," he said.

Wednesday was the final day for the plaintiffs to present evidence. Defendant ChevronTexaco will submit evidence next week.

The lawsuit, brought by 88 people representing 30,000 poor jungle settlers and Amazon Indians, opened in Lago Agrio last week after spending a decade winding through U.S. courts.

It marks the first time a multinational oil company has been subjected to Ecuadorean jurisdiction for alleged environmental damage

© The Associated Press