Chevron is not the only US oil company facing blockbuster claims
for damages from South American indigenous groups, due to past
environmental damage apparently sanctioned by their governments.
The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has
agreed to allow 25 Peruvian plaintiffs to sue Occidental Petroleum
in a US court. Occidental had argued that they should be forced to
sue in Peru, knowing that the Peruvian limitation period has almost
certainly expired. Also, enforcement of any judgment against
Occidental would be much easier if the decision comes from a US
"These cross-appeals arise from the petroleum and oil
exploration operations conducted by defendant Occidental Peruana
("OxyPeru"), an indirect subsidiary of defendant
Occidental Petroleum Corporation (collectively
"Occidental"), along the Rio Corrientes in the
northern region of Peru. Plaintiffs, 25 members of the Achuar
indigenous group dependent for their existence upon the rainforest
lands and waterways along the river, and Amazon Watch, a California
corporation, sued Occidental in Los Angeles County Superior Court
for envi- ronmental contamination and release of hazardous waste.
Occidental is among the largest oil and gas companies in the
United States. Its Peruvian operations began in the early 1970s
with the development of a pair of lots near the Ecuadorean border
known as "Block 1-AB." Its subsidiary, OxyPeru,
built Block 1-AB into a thriving extraction, processing, and
distribution site, providing 26 percent of Peru's total
historical oil production from 1972 to 2000, at which point
Occidental sold its stake in Block 1-AB to the Argentine oil
company Pluspetrol. ... The company built dozens of wells, a 530-
kilometer network of pipelines, refineries, and separation
batteries for processing crude oil, as well as roads, heliports and
camps to support the operation at Block 1-AB.
The Achuar are indigenous people who have long resided along the
rivers of the northern Peruvian rainforest. Block 1- AB encompasses
significant portions of the Corrientes and Macusari rivers, home to
several Achuar communities. The inhabitants use the rivers and
their tributaries for drinking, fishing, and bathing. The region is
remote, with access typically limited to small planes, helicopters,
small boats, and canoes.
The complaint alleges that, during its thirty years in the
Achuar territories, Occidental knowingly utilized out-of-date
methods for separating crude oil that contravened United States and
Peruvian law, resulting in the discharge of millions of gallons of
toxic oil byproducts into the area's waterways. Achuar
children and adults came into frequent contact with the
contaminants by using polluted rivers and tributaries for drinking,
washing and fishing. Tests have shown potentially dangerous levels
of lead and cadmium in the blood of a sig- nificant number of
affected individuals. Achuar Plaintiffs have reported
gastrointestinal problems, kidney trouble, skin rashes, and aches
and pains that they attribute to the pollution.
Plaintiffs further allege that the pollution led to decreasing
yields of edible fish, and that the animals hunted by the Achuar
have been turning up dead or diseased after drinking river water.
The pollution has also allegedly harmed agricultural productivity
and land values. Plaintiffs contend that Occidental was aware of
the dangers posed by the contamination but failed to warn
...Several dozen Achuar adults and children filed a complaint in
Los Angeles County Superior Court against Occidental on May 10,
2007. Plaintiffs assert claims for common law negligence, strict
liability, battery, medical monitoring, wrongful death, fraud and
misrepresentation, public and private nuisance, trespass, and
intentional infliction of emotional dis- tress, as well as a
violation of California's Unfair Competition Law. They seek
damages, injunctive and declaratory relief, restitution, and
disgorgement of profits on behalf of the indi- vidual plaintiffs
and two proposed classes. On August 3, 2007, Occidental removed the
action to United States District Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1332(d)(2). On September 10, 2007, the complaint was amended to
name Amazon Watch as a plaintiff."
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