March 6 (UPI) — Ecuador will clean areas of its Amazon region that were polluted decades ago by Texaco 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 will start to clean up polluted areas to try to stop the damage, El Telegrafo reported.
“It is a request from the president [Lenin Moreno] that we remedy that,” Energy Minister Carlos Perez recently said.
Judicial changes in Ecuador made it possible to clean up the areas. Previously, authorities could not interfere with the spills because the pollution was used as evidence in lawsuits against Chevron, which took over Texaco’s assets and liabilities at the time of their merger nearly two decades ago.
In September 2018, an arbitration court in The Hague found that Ecuador violated a treaty with the United States by allowing its courts in 2011 to issue a $9 billion judgement against Chevron, the Wall Street Journal reported. Legal disputes around the cleanup started in the 1990s.
Chevron does not dispute that pollution occurred but said it is not liable, because Texaco assets that caused the pollution and liabilities were transferred to the Ecuadorean government in the 1990s.
According to a Chevron statement, there was an accord as part of a 1992 audit that determined Texaco had to pay a $40 million remediation program to Ecuador. After the payment, the U.S. company obtained a full release from any environmental liability, Chevron has said. However, the Ecuadorean government only partially cleaned up the spill due to insufficient funds.
An Ecuadorean court in Lago Agrio ruled in 2011 that Chevron had to pay nearly $9 billion to some 30,000 indigenous residents in the region and for remediation works, but the company later successfully argued in U.S. courts that the trial was irregular.
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.
According to the Business & Human Rights Resource Center, the oil pollution in Ecuador has been described as “one of the largest environmental disasters in history” by Rainforest Action Network in May 2010. Pollution there caused illnesses and population displacement because polluted water was local residents’ only source for fishing and drinking.
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 seen oil-related pollution for decades.