LAGO AGRIO, Ecuador-Pristine Amazon rainforest is crisscrossed with oil wells and pipeline grids built by Texaco Inc. a generation ago.
For 15 years, a class-action lawsuit has been winding its way through the courts on behalf of the more than 125,000 people who drink, bathe, fish and wash their clothes in tainted headwaters of the Amazon River.
Chevron does not deny "the presence of pollution and we don't deny that there were impacts," says spokesman Kent Robertson. But Chevron contends a 1998 agreement that Texaco signed with Ecuador, after spending $40 million on remediation, absolves it of any legal responsibility. It says, and few dispute, that its former partner, state oil company Petroecuador, kept polluting after Texaco departed.
An expert, geological engineer Richard Cabrera, largely accepts plaintiffs' claims that Texaco left a mess when it left in the early 1990s. He is recommending damages based partly on his calculation of 1,401 pollution-caused cancer deaths.
The plaintiffs also allege the company poisoned the air by burning off natural gas and set fire to solid wastes during the 1990s remediation. They say they found a July 1972 Texaco memo that orders the company's acting manager in Ecuador to report only major spills and destroy "all previous reports" on spills.