The fight between the native people of northern Ecuador and the oil giant Chevron over the Lago Agrio oil field has taken an unexpected turn as Chevron just filed suit against the ruling judge and plaintiff’s lawyers for fraud and corruption. In 1967 the American oil company Texaco began to drill when they found vast oil reserves hidden beneath the Amazon’s floor in northern Ecuador, and decades later the people of Ecuador sued the crude oil giant for alleged pollution of the area. The lawsuit started in 1993, and after 18 years of battling in courts in the United States and Ecuador (and after Texaco was consumed by Chevron) the people of Ecuador were awarded $18 billion in restitution for the harm done to their health and their native land. Not content to foot the bill, Chevron has called the ruling illegitimate stating that they’ll do everything in their power to avoid paying for a crime they say they didn’t commit.

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The drawn out case was fought by lawyers for Chevron who were up against a joint coalition of prosecutors from the United States and Ecuador working for the native tribes of the lands affected. Though the case came to a close last February, lawyers for Chevron have continued to fight and their latest accusation is that lawyers on the plaintiff’s side helped the ruling Judge, Nicolas Zambrano, to draft the February 2011 judgement against Chevron that resulted in the $18 billion fine.

In their operations in the Lago Agrio oil field — the oil operation in question — in the Ecuadorian Amazon the oil company disposed of toxic water used in their extraction process by pumping it into open pits that remained when the company vacated the drilling sites. General practices around the world have oil companies pump that water back underground into the wells they were drilling from. The open pits were allegedly filled with toxic material that polluted groundwater, destroyed ecosystems and caused vast illness in the indigenous populations in the area. The team behind Ecuador says that the pits were filled with cancerous polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and they were responsible for a 150% rise in cancer rates in the area. Chevron claims there’s no direct link between those oily pits and the surrounding cancerous epidemic.

The Ecuador trial court decision finding Chevron guilty is based on valid scientific evidence, much of it provided by Chevron’s own experts and auditors,” said Karen Hinton, U.S. spokeswoman for the Ecuadoreans involved in the trial, in an emailed statement. She claimed that Chevron’s letter accusing the parties involved of fraud, “is nothing more than a public relations stunt orchestrated by Chevron to distract attention from its $18 billion liability.” Chevron has claimed that there is no corroborating evidence of health claims and that their drilling operations were, “completely in line with the standards of the day.” It seems that though the nightmare of pollution in the Ecuadorian Amazon continues this case will not be closed in the foreseeable future.

Via The New Yorker

Lead image by Julien Gomba