Blame Shifted to Ecuador for Alleged Environmental Damage

U.S. oil giant Texaco on Wednesday insisted Ecuador's state-run oil monopoly polluted over the past 14 years a part of the Amazon where the multinational previously operated.

"The environmental damage caused by Petroecuador is obvious and proven," Texaco said in full-page ads taken out in Ecuador's main newspapers.

The ads include numerous photographs purporting to show the damage Petroecuador inflicted on the ecosystem.

Texaco said the 19 photos capture "the present condition of the wells run by Petroecuador and the more serious environmental disasters caused by the state company." U

Petroecuador currently operates fields that were exploited by Texaco from 1965 to 1990.

Texaco, now ChevronTexaco, is facing a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit filed here by area residents seeking compensation for environmental damages allegedly inflicted by the California-based company before it handed over operations to Petroecuador.

The plaintiffs, which include four indigenous communities numbering some 30,000 individuals, are seeking $6 billion in damages, the amount they contend is needed to restore the environment. The cost could run higher, however, since they say the area is still being polluted.

Texaco maintains that it cleaned up the area before leaving and that it was not obliged to remove all remaining hydrocarbons but rather treat them so they no would longer pose a threat.

The oil giant says the Andean country is responsible for the cleanup and is seeking arbitration in a U.S. court. Ecuador has rejected the venue, saying the nation cannot be subjected to U.S. laws.

In a letter to the editor published in The New York Times on Monday, ChevronTexaco Vice President Edward B. Scott said the company fulfilled all its legal obligations in Ecuador.

"Texaco Petroleum Company honored all its obligations and obtained a full release of all liabilities from the Ecuadorean government," Scott said in his letter, dated Sept. 29.

"Ecuador's national oil company became the operator of the oil consortium after TexPet's departure and agreed contractually to indemnify TexPet for any liability to third parties."

Ecuador rejects the company's assertions that, according to the contract signed with Quito in 1964, it is responsible for current conditions.