In 2007, EarthRights International brought suit on behalf of twenty-five indigenous Achuar plaintiffs from the Peruvian Amazon against Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum Corp. (Oxy), alleging egregious harm caused by Oxy over a thirty-year period in the Corrientes River basin during which Oxy contaminated the rivers and lands of the indigenous Achuar communities, causing death, widespread poisoning and destruction of their way of life. For several years, Oxy argued that the case should be litigated in Peru, rather than in California, under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Oxy’s arguments and ruled that the case should continue in the Achuar Plaintiffs’ chosen forum: Oxy’s home state of California. In 2015, ERI announced that the parties were pleased to confirm a mutual settlement of the claims in the litigation. Under the settlement, the terms of which are confidential, Oxy provides assistance to enable these five Achuar communities to carry out community development projects for their benefit. All parties are satisfied with the resolution of this dispute.
Twenty-five indigenous Achuar plaintiffs from the Peruvian Amazon.
The California-based NGO, Amazon Watch, also sued Oxy for unfair business practices in covering up the contamination.
Apu Tomás Maynas Carijano, a plaintiff in the case and an Achuar traditional leader, stated, “With this lawsuit, I am here demanding Oxy clean up and compensate for the contamination it left in the Río Corrientes region. We can no longer eat the fish or drink the water. Our children are guaranteed death unless Oxy acts now.”
“[Oxy] said there wasn’t anything wrong, that the river and the animals and fish were fine. . . . Oxy . . . didn’t warn us about anything, and this was when Oxy was contaminating our area. . . . Oxy said, ‘we’re just extracting petroleum, we’re not contaminating.’ And so we got no support from Oxy . . . How am I going to survive? Where am I going to hunt? I want help. How am I going to raise my children?” — Man from Antioquía, May 2006
Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum Corp deliberately ignored industry standards and employed out-of-date practices for 30 years, resulting in cadmium and lead poisoning among the Achuar communities. Oxy dumped an average of 850,000 barrels per day of toxic oil by-products directly into rivers and streams used by the Achuar for drinking, bathing, washing, and fishing – totaling approximately nine billion barrels during the 30 years of operation.
In addition to EarthRights International (ERI), counsel for the plaintiffs include Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris Hoffman & Harrison LLP and Natalie Bridgeman Fields.
In 1971 Oxy signed a contract with the Peruvian government to drill for oil in Achuar territory, after initial testing had demonstrated the existence of significant reserves. Oxy began exploring and extracting petroleum from the Corrientes River basin in a remote region designated “Block 1AB” that had long been inhabited by the Achuar people. Large-scale production began in 1975, making it Peru’s largest onshore oil field complex, eventually producing approximately 42 percent of Peru’s oil. During its 30-year presence in the Corrientes region, Oxy built massive supporting infrastructure, such as airports, heliports, and refineries and at its peak produced approximately 115,000 barrels of crude oil per day. Oxy’s activities fell far short of the accepted industry standards throughout the course of their operations, as the company discharged massive quantities of contaminated waters into local streams, stored wastes improperly, and caused periodic oil spills. Three decades of Oxy’s activities caused significant health and environmental harms suffered by the Achuar people and their once-pristine rainforest environment. In 2000, Oxy sold its concession to Pluspetrol, an Argentine corporation that continues to use the systems and infrastructure Oxy designed and put in place. While the company at the helm of Block 1AB might be different, its modus operandi remains the same. Oxy’s destructive patterns, and the resulting human rights and environmental harms, have continued on Pluspetrol’s watch.
ERI, along with its co-counsel, Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris Hoffman & Harrison LLP and Natalie Bridgeman Fields, brought suit on behalf of twenty-five indigenous Achuar plaintiffs from the Peruvian Amazon against Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum Corp. (Oxy), alleging egregious harm caused by Oxy over a thirty-year period in the Corrientes River basin during which Oxy contaminated the rivers and lands of the indigenous Achuar communities, causing death, widespread poisoning and destruction of their way of life. ERI and its co-counsel also represented the California-based NGO Amazon Watch, which sued Oxy for unfair business practices in covering up the contamination.
The Oxy lawsuit was dismissed by the federal District Court in Los Angeles; the judge ruled that under the doctrine of “forum non conveniens,” the case should be litigated in Peru instead of the United States.
The plaintiffs appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the case should stay in the United States, and that the district court should have granted some discovery before dismissing the case. Oxy also cross-appealed, arguing that Amazon Watch had no standing to sue, and should be dismissed from the case.
The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling, finding that the case should stay in Los Angeles. The Ninth Circuit did not rule on Amazon Watch’s standing to sue, instead ruling that the district court should consider that question. Oxy then filed a petition for rehearing at the Ninth Circuit, challenging the appeal decision.
The Ninth Circuit issued a new opinion, addressing some of Oxy’s criticisms but not changing the result of the appeal; the amended opinion still decided that the case should stay in Los Angeles. Oxy filed a second petition for rehearing challenging the new opinion and asking the whole court (“en banc”) to review the panel’s decision.
The Ninth Circuit denied that petition; five judges of the Ninth Circuit filed an opinion stating that they believed the en banc court should review the panel’s decision, and the judges on the panel issued another short opinion defending their decision. Oxy subsequently filed a petition for review with the U.S. Supreme Court, which the plaintiffs opposed.
The Supreme Court denied the petition.
ERI announced that the parties were pleased to confirm a mutual settlement of the claims in the litigation. Under the settlement, the terms of which are confidential, Oxy provides assistance to enable these five Achuar communities to carry out community development projects for their benefit. All parties are satisfied with the resolution of this dispute.
The legal issue of whether, when victims travel to the home city of a U.S. company to file a complaint, the company can easily argue that the lawsuit should be dismissed back to the place where the plaintiffs are from.
Indigenous Peruvians win Amazon pollution payout from US oil giant | The Guardian | March 5, 2015
Líderes Achuar y Occidental Petroleum llegan a un acuerdo tras contaminación del rio Corrientes | La Republica| March 5, 2015
Peru indigenous groups settle U.S. court claims with Occidental | Reuters | March 5, 2015
Occidental Petroleum pays Peru indigenous confidential sum in Amazon pollution settlement | Fox News | March 5, 2015
Indigenous Peruvians win case against Oxy | TeleSUR English (video) | March 5, 2015
Justice is Served: Achuar celebrate victory over Occidental Petroleum | Cultural Survival | June 2015
Peru’s Indigenous Communities Are Fighting Back Against Environmental Contamination by Seizing Oil Wells | VICE | February 3, 2015
Indigenous Peru Group Threatens to Sue Occidental | Reuters | May 3, 2007
Oxy Faces Lawsuit Threat Over Amazon Toxins | Inter Press Service News Agency
Peru’s Rainforest: Oil and Gas Run Through It | Christian Science Monitor | 2007
Oxy Sued Over Peruvian Drilling | LA Business Journal
Amazon Communities Warn Oxy Over Toxins | Upside Down World | May 9, 2007
Oil Company Accused of Dumping Waste in Amazon | Petroleum World | May 5, 2007
Peru Indigenous Warn Oxy Over Toxins | WW4Report | May 10, 2007
Peruvian Group Suing Oxy Over Pollution | ABCMoney | October 5, 2007
Indigenous Community Sues LA-Based Occidental Petroleum | Living in Peru
Peruvians Sue Oil Giant Over Amazon Pollution | Buzzle.com
What Happens in the Amazon, Doesn’t Stay in the Amazon: One Mother’s Inspiring Quest for Justice | Katie Redford, Huffington Post
Oil companies caught cheating; what else are they hiding? | Michelle Harrison
Ninth Circuit confirms appeal ruling in Oxy case | Marco Simons
The Oxy appeal ruling: What it means, and what comes next | Marco Simons