Business, Finance & Economics

Brazil probes Chevron in oil spil


It makes the world go 'round. It's also really messy when it leaks out. Here, a recent (non-Chevron) spill washes ashore in New Zealand.


Mike Hewitt

Chevron's in trouble again. 

This time, in Brazil. 

The country's federal police are investigating the company for alleged pollution from an oil spill at an offshore drilling project.

The police said Chevron drilled 1,500 feet further than the government had allowed, and oil seeped into the water.

Chevron began plugging the well that was suspected of seeping oil, but the federal police said the information the company gave them didn't align with what they saw when they visited the site.

Here's Chevron's response, which it emailed to Reuters: 

Chevron spokesman said the company "continues to fully inform and cooperate with Brazilian government agencies as part of the company's response efforts."

Brazil has been getting tough on foreign companies, reminding them that it's not your run-of-the-mill emerging market.

Those countries, many of which can be found in Africa, have in the past been overly pliant when it comes to foreign investment. They're so desperate for the cash that they are willing to put up with all kinds of shenanigans, and offer egregious concessions, just to get the deal. 

That's happening less and less, as (some) governments become more accountable to their people, less interested in taking bribes, and more aggressive about representing their own nation's interests. 

Brazil is the poster-child for this new attitude. President Dilma Rousseff doesn't take much guff. And she also knows that as much as Brazil wants foreign investment and wants to continue to grow, there are a lot of partners who are interested in a dance. 

So this showdown with Chevron should be interesting. 

Meanwhile, Chevron is still battling in Ecuador, where a court has ruled that it must pay to clean up pollution it says the company made years ago in the Amazon.

Remember that case? It's the quintessential David-and-Goliath tale. A refresher: 

Indigenous groups who live in the area said that Texaco, a company that has since merged with Chevron, dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into pits and rivers in Ecuador in 1972 and 1992. As a result, the lawsuit says, the land and water were contaminated. People developed cancer and babies were born with birth defects. 

Chevron argued that it cleaned up the mess it made already, spending $40 million in the 1990s. Texaco at the time signed an agreement with the Ecuadorean government that said it would be cleared of further responsibility — in a perfect example, it should be noted, of a developing nation willing to make concessions that might not be in the best interests of its people.

As a result of that deal, Chevron says that any further damages should be handled by Ecuador’s state-run oil company or the government itself.  

The latest on that? A US court ruled that Chevron should pay $18.2 billion. They're now waiting on the appeal from the Ecuador courts.