Monday, August 02, 2010

182,152 pages in the Chevron trial

It's an impressive number. Judge Leonardo Ordonez, president of the provincial court of the Sucumbios in Ecuador's Oriente, has said he won't be able to rule this year on the suit between indigenous communities of the region and Chevron Corporation in part because of the extent of the filings in the case, totaling 182,152 pages. How many of those pages are superfluous motions, document dumps, and the like by Chevron? The case has dragged on for 17 years now.

By the way, the indigenous communities claim that during Texaco's twenty years in Ecuador, the company was responsible for dumping 345 million gallons of crude oil, and another 18 billion gallons of contaminated waste water into the Oriente. Compare that to BP's release of approximately 185 million gallons into the Gulf. Of course, the BP contamination is much more dramatic because of its rapidity, and because releasing into the Gulf allowed the oil to spread rapidly. It took Texaco a much longer time to contaminate Ecuador's slice of Amazonia. That, and there is no "first world" media obsession with the destructive deeds of the past. This is also the case with the Niger delta, which has been horribly devastated by unregulated petroleum extraction.

And that last bit is a real part of the problem. Why do oil companies behave as they have in places like Niger and Ecuador? Because they thought they could get away with it in countries that lack robust environmental regulation, monitoring capacity, and political will to take foreign corporations to task. In many cases, the possibility for a regulatory structure was coercively quashed by the international debt regime, which forced desperate countries to privatize and deregulate their economies in return for renegotiated debt service.

Compensation for the victims of this system of petroleum exploitation is too little too late, but it is at least something. Here's hoping that Ordonez can wade through the rest of that paper in the next 6-10 months and give a just ruling.