08 March 2011
Source: Upstream Online
The move follows an Ecuadorean court's judgment last month that went against Chevron in what has become an international test case, watched closely by private-sector oil companies wary of potential damages claims elsewhere, Reuters reported.
Extending an 8 February temporary restraining order that froze enforcement of damages, US District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan issued a preliminary injunction preventing the plaintiffs from trying to collect on the judgment outside Ecuador.
A legal battle in several jurisdictions around the world, Kaplan wrote, would only make it more likely that Chevron would decide to settle.
"If Chevron were to yield to the coercion, the damage would have been done," the New York judge wrote in his 127-page ruling. "Chevron would have paid a price for peace."
Kaplan's is just the latest move in a 17-year-long legal battle in which rainforest residents say Texaco, bought by Chevron in 2001, is responsible for hazardous oil-drilling waste dumped on their land in the 1970s and 1980s, Reuters reported.
Chevron says Texaco cleaned up all waste pits for which it was responsible before turning the sites over to state-owned oil firm Petroecuador, which still operates in the area.
Questions surround the enforcement of the Ecuadorean court ruling because Chevron has no assets in the country, but the company worried that the plaintiffs will try to collect on the judgment in other countries.
Kaplan’s decision means that the ultimate enforcement of any damages can be litigated in the United States.
"Chevron is not a fly-by-night operation about to flee the country," he wrote, adding that the company is a major enterprise "quite able to pay the entire judgment" if it loses the case.
As part of its broad attack on the plaintiffs' allegations, Chevron filed a civil racketeering lawsuit in New York on 1 February against some Ecuadorean plaintiffs, their Amazon Defense Front supporters, and their main US lawyer, Steven Donziger.
Kaplan noted that the damages from the Ecuadorean court in Lago Agrio have jumped to more than $18 billion, given that the award doubled due to a lack of a public apology from Chevron and when a payment to the Amazon Defense Front is included.
The plaintiffs have appealed the Ecuadorean court's decision, claiming more money was needed for cleanup efforts. They did not have an immediate comment on Kaplan's ruling on Monday, Reuters reported.