Tuesday, 15 June 2010

After BP, new attitudes will be tested by Chevron ruling

Photo by 350.org

'Poor' BP is getting it in the neck right now with the US Senate announcing its intention to fine the oil company way more than first estimated for the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.

Leaving aside questions over whether the US is trying to squeeze BP until the pips squeak or if the bill simply represents real costs, it certainly seems that American politicians have woken up to the grim realities of "Drill, Baby Drill!".

So much so, in fact, that Obama has compared the spill's impact to that of 9/11. Not in so far as equating BP with Islamic extremists, as some people have somehow grasped, but in terms of the impact the 'rare' event will have on particular policy in the US.

Already, further exploration and exploitation has been put on hold, but perhaps one of the key tests of Obama's new attitude will be the unfolding situation in Ecuador, where iconic American brand Chevron is desperately trying to pull the plug on a multi-billion dollar lawsuit against itself for wreaking havoc in the Amazon.

During the late 20th century oil giant Texaco treated the rainforest like their own waste disposal unit. Now Chevron, who bought Texaco in 2001, are fighting off claims for reparations from thousands of affected Ecuadorians whose lives and environment have been destroyed.

It looks almost certain that Chevron will be hit with a bill for damages that could wipe up to a fifth off of their market value, leading the company to increasingly desperate efforts to weasel out of their impending doom.

But what will American legislators make of any such decision? Efforts by Chevron to undermine the Ecuadorian judicial system by taking the case to international arbitration suggest they seem hellbent on avoiding any kind of compensation deal.

If this is the case, then it's going to take a worldwide effort to force Chevron to cough up, including much needed support in the US where energy industry lobbyists exert strong influences on media and government. Will the shift in environmental policy uphold the will of other nations or will imperialist attitudes prevail?

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