The Supreme Court of Canada on Sept. 4 ruled in favor of Ecuadoran villagers seeking to enforce a multi-billion dollar judgment against the Chevron Corporation. In 2011, the 30,000 villagers secured the $17.2 billion judgment in an Ecuador court for environmental damage to rainforest in the Lago Agrio region. Damages were subsequently reduced by an appeals court to $9.5 billion. The new 7-0 ruling means that the Ecuadorans may pursue the judgment against Chevron in Canada through its subsidiary, Chevron Canada Ltd. Chevron has put up a vigorous legal battle to avoid the fine, arguing that, because the damage was perpetrated by Texaco between 1972 and 1990, before it was bought out by Chevron in 2001, and because Texaco signed an agreement with Ecuador to absolve it of responsibility after a $40 million cleanup effort, Chevron should not be required to pay out for its former competitor.
Colombia surpassed Peru last year in land under coca cultivation, resuming its number one position for the first time since 2012. The latest annual report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) finds that territory under coca cultivation dropped 14% in Peru, from 49,800 hectares in 2013 to 42,900 in 2014—the smallest area under cultivation since 1998. Colombia meanwhile experienced a 44% jump from 48,000 hectares to 69,000. Peru made gains against coca in the Upper Huallaga Valley, while coca fields expanded in Colombia's Putumayo, Caquetá, Meta and Guaviare regions—all on the frontier lands of plains and rainforest east of the Andes. The findings do not necessarily mean that Colombia is now the world's top cocaine producer, as much of Peru's crop is more mature and higher yielding, having never been subjected to eradication. While Peru eradicates in the Upper Huallaga, it resists US pressure to do so in a second coca cultivation zone, the Apurímac-Ene Valley, for fear of inflaming peasant unrest. (AP, UNODC, July 15; UNODC, July 2)
China's Qingdao Maritime Court on July 27 ruled that a lawsuit against ConocoPhillips China and China National Offshore Oil for a 2011 oil spill can proceed. The suit was brought by the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation and it the first case to proceed since the country revised a law (LoC backgrounder) allowing NGOs to directly sue polluters in the public interest. The Chinese government has already fined the companies approximately $258 million for the spill. Other cases are also pending under the law, which became effective on Jan. 1.
BP on July 2 reached a settlement that will require the company to pay $18.7 billion in penalties and damages to settle all claims regarding the 2010 Gulf oil spill. The agreement, the largest corporate settlement in US history, will add to the $43.8 billion that BP had budgeted for penalties and cleanup costs, bringing the total cost of the spill for BP to $53.8 billion. The settlement with the US Department of Justice and the affected Gulf states specifically requires the company to pay at least $12.8 billion in penalties stipulated under the Clean Water Act and natural resource damages. Another $4.9 billion will go to the affected states. [An additional $1 billion will be paid to local governments.] Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch in a statement said, "Since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill—the largest environmental disaster in our nation's history—the Justice Department has been fully committed to holding BP accountable... The Deepwater trial team has fought aggressively in federal court for an outcome that would achieve this mission, proving along the way that BP's gross negligence resulted in the Deepwater disaster."
This week, the Obama administration released a draft of its next five-year plan for offshore drilling—opening up a previously off-limits area along the Southeastern coast, from Virginia down to Georgia, as well as offering many new oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico. And while it would protect some key areas north of Alaska from drilling, it would open other Arctic areas up. The plan designates 9.8 million acres of Alaska's Beaufort and Chukchi seas off-limits to oil-and-gas leasing, and asks Congress to set aside 12 million acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as "wilderness area," affording another level of protection. Daily Caller is outraged that the Alaskan waters are to be off-limits; Grist is outraged that the Southeastern waters are to be opened up; Bloomberg tries to play it objective. However, read the small print last line of the White House memo on the supposedly new polcy: "Nothing in this withdrawal affects the rights under existing leases in the withdrawn areas."
Royal Dutch Shell on Jan. 7 reached a settlement in a lawsuit concerning the Niger Delta oil spills of 2008. The settlement, totaling $84 million, will be divided between 15,600 individuals who will receive $3,300 each as compensation for losses caused by the spills. The remaining $30 million will be disbursed throughout the community, which also suffered significant damage from the spills. Rights group Amnesty International noted that this settlement is "an important victory for the victims of corporate negligence," but expressed disappointment that it took six years for the victims to be compensated. They argue that Shell knew that the oil spills [which took place near Bodo in October and December 2008] were a distinct possibility since 2002 and took no "effective" action to prevent them from occurring. However, the managing director of the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited, Mutiu Sunmonu, contends that they have taken responsibility for the spills from the beginning, and that the spills were due to operational pipe failure. AI also accused Shell of making false claims about the impact of the oil spills in documents presented to a UK court in November. They state that Shell claimed that only 4,000 barrels of oil spilled for both spills but AI believes the number is closer to 100,000 barrels for the first spill alone.
The UN General Assembly on Dec. 20 approved a resolution calling upon Israel to pay Lebanon over $850 million in damages for an oil spill caused by air-strikes on storage tanks at the Jiyyeh power station during the 2006 war. The assembly voted 170-6 in favor of the nonbinding resolution, with three abstentions. Only Israel, the United States, Canada, Australia, Micronesia and Marshall Islands voted "no." The resolution called the oil slick that covered the entire Lebanese coast and extended into Syria an "environmental disaster." Some 15,000 tons of oil were released into the Mediterranean in the July 2006 air raids. (Middle East Eye, Al Jazeera, BBC News, AP via Times of Israel, Dec. 20)
A massive oil spill from a stricken tanker is threatening endangered dolphins and other rare wildlife in the world's largest mangrove forest, Bangladesh officials warned Dec. 11. Rescue vessels have now salvaged the tanker, but the slick had already spread to a second river and a network of canals in the Sundarbans, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which straddles India and Bangladesh. "It's a catastrophe for the delicate ecology of the Sundarbans," the area's chief forest official Amir Hossain told the AFP news agency. "The oil spill has already blackened the shoreline, threatening trees, plankton, vast populations of small fishes and dolphins." The tanker was carrying more than 350,000 liters of oil when it collided with another vessel and sank in the Sundarbans' Shela River, home to the endangered Ganges dolphins. Forest and security officials are on high alert amid fears the spill may cross over to the Indian side of the Sunderbans, home to Bengal tigers, ridley turtles, and other rare flora and fauna. The Sunderbans is also an important feeding area for migratory birds from Siberia. (Radio Australia, Al Jazeera, Business Standard, India, Dec. 11)