Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Not Apologizing is Costly

Chevron got hit with a $9.47 billion fine from a court in Ecuador for polluting the water in the arc of the rainforest territory for polluting the region's water supply while pumping large amounts of oil in that region since the 1970s. If this judgement is upheld, the damage amount may be the highest-ever awarded in an environmental case. To add insult to injury, if Chevron does not make a public apology within 15 days of the issuing date of the judgement, the fine could go up to $17.2 billion.

At this point, the Company is not willing to apologize. Chevron is stating that the company it acquired Texaco cleaned up the polluted water before it ceased operations in the region and the current problems are due to another oil company, Petroecaudor, which is owned by the Ecuadorian government. Regardless of who is at fault, the inhabitants of that region complain of above-average cancer rates and the dumping of 15.8 billion gallons of toxic water into the streams of the rivers that supplies most of the areas drinking water.

At first blush, it would appear that Chevron has a pretty tough hill to climb because the entity it is blaming to have caused this problem is owned by the government. Chevron, however, has filed a suit in a New York court against the plaintiffs' lawyers alleging fraud and attempted extortion. Specifically, they claim that plaintiffs' lawyers have colluded with court officials to get this outrageously high amount of damages. In addition, Chevron has no assets in Ecuador. Therefore, collecting damages will be difficult. Ecuador will have to other authorities in countries where Chevron has assets to enforce this judgement. Most importantly, the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague along with a court in New York issued an injunction temporally blocking this move by Ecuador.

In the end, Ecuador and the inhabitants of the plotted region may not receive an apology any type of damage payout. What seemed like a major victory now seems more like a Pyhric victory.

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