Chevron CEO says ruling in Ecuador case a 'resounding victory'

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Chevron Corp Chief Executive John Watson said his company won a “resounding victory” on Tuesday after a U.S. district judge quashed a judgment against the company that was handed down by an Ecuadorean court.

Ecuador has tried to fine the company as much as $18 billion, claiming Texaco, which was later acquired by Chevron, contaminated an oil field in northeastern Ecuador between 1964 and 1992.

“This ruling is a resounding victory for Chevron and its shareholders,” CEO Watson told reporters attending the IHS CERAWeek conference in Houston. “Having a judgment like this from a reputable court in the United States will certainly be helpful in preventing enforcement actions elsewhere.”

Steven Donziger, a Harvard-educated U.S. lawyer who represented the Ecuadorean villagers in the case, characterized the ruling as “appalling” and said he would appeal the decision.

Watson said he expects a rapid ramp up in drilling in Argentina in the Vaca Muerta area, where Chevron is working in what is widely believed to be one of the world’s top tight oil plays.

In February, Spanish oil major Repsol approved a $5 billion settlement with the government of Argentina, ending a two-year dispute over the seizure of the company’s operations in the country. Argentina hopes the settlement will clear the way for increased investment from foreign oil companies to develop Vaca Muerta, a formation in the country’s Patagonia region.

More details on Chevron’s drilling plans in Argentina will be provided when the company holds its investor meeting next week, Watson told reporters.

He also called on U.S. policymakers to free restrictions on U.S. crude oil exports, saying “free trade wins ... let’s get on with it.”

Watson applauded Mexico’s efforts to open its energy sector to foreign investment, but said it was too early for a decision on any deals with state-owned Pemex.

Reporting By Anna Driver; Editing by Terry Wade and Chris Reese