As a part of the Republican tax overhaul bill, Congress voted Dec. 20 to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and natural gas drilling, after more than four decades of contestation on the matter. The House voted 224-201 to pass the bill, mostly along party lines. This finalizes the legislation, as the Senate version was passed by a 51-48 party-line vote earlier in the day. Once President Trump signs the law, the oil industry will have finally achieved a long-sought goal. "We're going to start drilling in ANWR, one of the largest oil reserves in the world, that for 40 years this country was unable to touch. That by itself would be a massive bill," Trump boasted. "They've been trying to get that, the Bushes, everybody. All the way back to Reagan, Reagan tried to get it. Bush tried to get it. Everybody tried to get it. They couldn't get it passed. That just happens to be here."
In a setback to Chevron's effort to evade a $9.5 billion liability owed to rainforest communities, Canada's Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and Ecuadoran indigenous leaders signed a protocol Dec. 6 to hold the corporation accountable for dumping billions of gallons of toxic oil waste and for ongoing violations of indigenous rights. The agreement was signed at the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa. AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde signed the protocol along with Jamie Vargas, president of Ecuador's indigenous federation, CONAIE, and Carmen Cartuche, president of the Front for the Defense of the Amazon (FDA), the community-based organization in Ecuador's Amazon region that brought an historic lawsuit against Chevron on behalf of indigenous and campesino communities. The agreement is supported by a resolution passed unanimously by the Chiefs-in-Assembly.
San Francisco on Sept. 20 filed a lawsuit against five fossil fuel companies due to expected expenses the city will incur from global warming. The companies named in the suit are BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell—chosen because they are "the largest investor-owned fossil fuel corporations in the world as measured by their historic production of fossil fuels." The suit claims the companies knew of the effects of fossil fuels on global warming since the late 1970s or early '80s, but nonetheless "engaged in large-scale, sophisticated advertising and public relations campaigns to promote pervasive fossil fuel usage." The suit seeks an order that the defendants fund an abatement program for the building of seawalls to protect San Francisco from rising sea levels.
The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Aug. 8 affirmed (PDF) a lower court ruling that barred Ecuadoran plaintiffs from collecting a $8.646 billion Ecuadoran judgment against Chevron Corp. The lower court had concluded in 2014 that the Ecuadoran judgment was obtained through corruption and fraud and barred the plaintiffs' attorney, Steven Donziger, from attempting to enforce the judgment or profit from the award anywhere in the world. The appeals court affirmed the lower court's judgment that concluded that Donziger and his team had secretly authored the judgment and offered the Ecuadoran judge $500,000 to sign it. The appeals court also said that the lower court's decision does not invalidate the judgment and does not prevent the enforcement of the judgment outside the US. The dispute arises from allegations by Ecuadoran plaintiffs of Chevron's role in environmental damage in the Amazon rainforest. Chevron disputes these claims, while Donziger maintains his innocence and that he is the victim of a coordinated campaign against him by Chevron.
The US Supreme Court on June 6 declined to hear an appeal by the government of Ecuador of a $96 million arbitration settlement awarded to Chevron oil company. The high court let stand a 2015 decision by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, upholding the 2013 award in Chevron's favor issued by The Hague's Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Netherlands. Texaco, which was acquired by Chevron in 2001, originally brought suit in Ecuador for breaking terms of oil contracts and international agreements. Chevron initiated the arbitration proceeding at The Hague in 2006, seeking to hold Ecuador's government liable for damages from pollution of the rainforest. Chevron claimed Ecuador violated provisions of a 1997 investment treaty by failing to resolve lawsuits in a timely fashion. With interest, the arbitration award stands at approximately $106 million, Chevron said. Other Chevron cases related to matter before The Hague panel remain pending. (AP, Reuters, OilPrice, June 6; Chevron press release, Aug. 31, 2011)
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.
For the first time in nearly 80 years, Mexico opened its oil industry to foreign companies, offering 14 offshore exploration blocs in a July 15 auction. However, only two of the blocs were sold, falling short of expectations. ExxonMobil, Chevron and Total all passed on the first 14 shallow-water oil blocs in the Gulf of Mexico. A consortium of Mexico-based Sierra Oil & Gas, Texas-based Talos Energy and UK-based Premier Oil Plc won Bloc No. 2 after the first bloc didn't receive a bid, Mexico's National Hydrocarbons Commission and Energy Secretariat announced. Only nine companies took part in the auction, fewer than the 25 originally planned. A larger auction is planned for next month. The blocs are near the US-Mexico transboundary waters, and close to some of the most significant discoveries of the past 15 years on the US side. A new Hydrocarbon Law, allowing for production-sharing and profit-sharing, was instated in 2014. Over the past decade, Mexico has fallen from the world's fifth oil producer to tenth. (FuelFix, July 16; FuelFix, BBC News, July 15; WSJ, July 12)
Argentina's Chamber of Deputies voted 130-116, with one abstention, on Oct. 30 to pass a new version of a 1967 federal law governing the exploitation of oil and gas resources. The controversial new version had already been approved by the Senate; it will become law once it is signed and published in the Official Gazette by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Under the revised law—which was pushed through the National Congress by the Front for Victory (FPV), President Fernández's center-left faction of the Peronist Justicialist Party (PJ)—concessions will be granted to private companies for 25 years for conventional oil drilling, for 30 years for offshore drilling and for 35 years for unconventional techniques like hydrofracking. The royalties the companies pay on oil and gas sales will be limited to 12% for the federal government and to just 3% for the oil-producing provinces, which technically control the resources. Private companies can also benefit from a provision letting them sell 20% of their production in international markets without paying export taxes if they invest $250 million over a three-year period.