Indigenous Peru group threatens to sue Occidental

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Indigenous Achuar communities of Peru who claim that pollution resulting from the production of oil harmed their way of life and dama ged their health on Thursday threatened to sue Occidental Petroleum Corp..

The Achuar people live along the Corrientes River in the Amazon Basin of northeastern Peru near Ecuador. It is there that Los Angeles-based Occidental produced oil for 25 years starting in 1975.

Occidental sold its concession to Argentine-based Pluspetrol by 2000, which continues to produce oil there.

Attorneys who represent the Achuar said in a Thursday conference call with the press that pollution caused by Occidental until 2000 and Occidental’s poorly designed pollution control systems that remain in place leave culpable the fourth-largest U.S. oil and gas company.

Three nonprofit groups on Thursday issued a 60-page report called “Legacy of Harm” that draws from its 2006 study of the region. Those groups are Amazon Watch and EarthRights International which are U.S.-based, and Lima-based Racimos de Ungurahui.

“Oxy has extracted petroleum from our ancestral territory, contaminating and destroying it,” said Andres Sandi Mucushua, president of the Federation of Native Communities of the Corrientes River. “We have seen our rivers, farms, and animals sicken and we have become ill and died from the contamination.”

Richard S. Kline, vice president for communications for Occidental, told Reuters the company has been “a responsible steward of the environment where our employees work and live” and left Peru almost eight years ago.

“When we were in Peru, the operations were consistent with Peruvian government requirements and consistent with internationally recognized standards for oil and gas operations,” Kline said.

“We have no scientific data of any adverse impact of our operations in Peru,” said Kline.

Marco Simons, legal director for EarthRights International, which will represent the Achuar if a suit is filed, said Occidental has until next week to respond to claims laid out in the report before legal action is taken.

Simons said a suit, if one is filed, would be filed in Los Angeles in either state or federal court.

About 8,600 in five Achuar communities claim that Occidental’s lack of pollution controls have caused them to have dangerously high levels of toxins lead and cadmium.

Last November, Pluspetrol said it would invest $200 million, mainly for environmental projects, in the Amazon basin after a 13-day blockade of its oil wells by the Achuar in protest of pollution. Pluspetrol said it was losing more than $2 million a day because of shut oil production.

Pluspetrol is not included in the threat to sue Occidental because of that agreement. Simons said the Achuar will watch to see if Pluspetrol lives up to its pledge.