3 April 2008
An independent environmental expert told a court in Ecuador that the oil company Chevron should pay $7 billion to $16 billion in compensation for environmental damage in the country.
In a report to the court, the expert, Richard Cabrera, who is a geologist, said the low end of the range represented the cost to remediate soils and pay for health care costs, a water system and infrastructure improvements.
The high end of the range was based on an "unjust enrichment" penalty.
The lawsuit, which peasants and Indians in Ecuador brought in the early 1990s, contends that Texaco, which Chevron bought in 2001, polluted the jungle and damaged their health by dumping 18 billion gallons of contaminated water from 1972 to 1992.
Chevron's general counsel, Charles James, disputed the findings of the report, saying the case had become a political issue in Ecuador.
"This is no longer a private lawsuit; it is a working partnership between the government and plaintiffs," he said. "This is more extortion that a real lawsuit. We will protest this report."
He did not rule out reaching an out-of-court settlement with the plaintiffs, but said the company would not be "blackmailed."
The company said later it would petition the local court to dismiss the report.
Steven Donziger, a lawyer based in the United States who is advising the plaintiffs, said the report was "a complete rejection of everything that Chevron has been saying since the case began 15 years ago."
He said Mr. Cabrera's report validates the plaintiffs' arguments, and added that he expected a court ruling in 2009 "knowing that Chevron will try to delay the process."
Chevron has argued that it was released from any liability because it paid $40 million for an environmental cleanup in the 1990s. It blames the state oil company, Petroecuador, for much of the pollution.