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Indigenous Ecuadoran woman humbles US oil giant

Ecuador rings up billion-dollar oil sale to China
Quito (AFP) Feb 22, 2011 - Ecuador has received a billion dollars from PetroChina as prepayment for crude oil sales, Finance Minister Patricio Rivero said Tuesday. Rivero did not say how much oil was involved but that it was a two-year contract that would begin in August. It was the second time Quito used the prepayment regime with China. Ecuador, the OPEC member with the lowest crude output, pumped 486,000 barrels per day in 2010, of which 62 percent were moved by Petroecuador and the rest by foreign firms such as China's CNPC. Of its output, the South American nation exported about 340,000 bpd, generating $8.93 billion, according to Central Bank data.

China sends plane, ships for Libya evacuation
Beijing (AFP) Feb 23, 2011 - China will send a jet, ships and fishing vessels from nearby waters to violence-wracked Libya on Wednesday to help evacuate more than 30,000 Chinese living there, the government and state media said. A chartered Air China jet was to leave Beijing on Wednesday for Athens, as the Chinese government awaits permission to land in the north African country, where hundreds have been killed in an uprising against leader Moamer Kadhafi. The government has set up an emergency centre headed by Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang to coordinate the evacuation of Chinese nationals, as well as those from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The State Council, or cabinet, "decided to immediately deploy chartered civil aircraft, COSCO cargo ships in nearby waters, and Chinese fishing vessels carrying needed living and medical supplies", the ministry said. China will also look to hire "nearby large-scale passenger cruise ships and buses" to help in the evacuation effort, it added. A spokesman for China's embassy in Libya, Du Minghao, said dozens of Chinese citizens had been injured since the unrest broke out about a week ago. Fifteen of them were hospitalised, the spokesman told the China Daily.

China on Tuesday called on Tripoli to ensure the safety of its nationals, after hundreds of construction workers in eastern Libya were forced to flee attacks on their compound by gun-toting robbers. "China has made urgent representations to the Libyan side, requiring it to conduct investigations (into the attacks) and bring the perpetrators to justice," foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu told reporters. About 33,000 Chinese nationals live and work in Libya, mainly in the oil, rail and telecoms sectors, the paper reported, citing embassy staff in Tripoli. The official Xinhua news agency reported that 83 Chinese had crossed the border into Egypt late Tuesday.
by Staff Writers
Rumipamba, Ecuador (AFP) Feb 22, 2011
She has no legal training, and doesn't speak the Spanish that dominates government in Quito but indigenous villager Maria Aguinda helped bring a landmark judgment against US oil giant Chevron for polluting the rain forest she calls home.

The diminutive grandmother whose modest home sits near marshes clogged for decades in sticky oil has been at the heart of the David-and-Goliath case, and spoke out after Chevron was slapped last week with a $9.5-billion fine, among the heaviest ever handed down for environmental damage.

"Before I die they have to pay me for the dead animals, and for what they did to the river, and the water and the earth," the 61-year-old Aguinda told AFP at her home in Rumipamba, a town in remote Orellana province where pollution caused by 30 years of oil drilling and petroleum accidents had become a sad fact of life.

Texaco operated in the area between 1964 and 1990, and was bought in 2001 by Chevron, which inherited Texaco's legal nightmare.

"The demand (for compensation) is going on track," said the ethnic Quechua woman, pointing to a nearby spot marked by spillage from an oil well run by Texaco in the 1970s.

"Mary Aguinda et al" are the opening words of the suit launched in 1993 on behalf of 30,000 residents of Orellana and Sucumbios provinces, in which they charge Texaco dumped billions of gallons of toxic crude during its operations, fouling rivers, lakes and soil and causing cancer deaths in indigenous communities.

Aguinda said she believes her husband and two of his 10 children died from effects of the pollution, which rights group Amazon Watch says has affected an area the size of the US state of Rhode Island.

Several of her family members "have skin problems, like fungus," Aguinda said as she lifted her granddaughter's foot off the dirt floor to show an outbreak on her leg.

Chevron blames state-run Petroecuador, with which Texaco formed a consortium from 1972 until the US firm departed in 1992, of not doing its part in the clean-up agreed with the state.

"When Texaco came we never thought they would leave behind such damage, never. Then it began to drill a well and set up burn pits," she said, helped in translation by her son William Grefa.

"It changed our life: hunting, fishing, and other food, it's all finished."

She skeptically eyes the ongoing cleanup of a marsh just meters from her house, where workers dressed in oil-stained yellow overalls dredge thick black ooze into suction pipes.

Aguinda said the spill is leftover from a Texaco storage pool which overflowed into the marshes during 1987-1990 operations of the Auca South 1 well about 200 meters (656 feet) from Rumipamba.

Texaco performed operational repairs in the area in the 1990s, and oil extraction continues in the region, according to Grefa.

Six months ago, a dozen workers from Petroecuador, which has managed the concession since 1990, began cleaning up the marshes, reviving bitter memories within the community of the slow-motion disaster.

The company "made arrangements, but they covered everything with sticks and earth and nothing more," said Grefa, a member of the Assembly of People Affected by Texaco, which represents the 30,000 indigenous people in the suit.

The operation has done little to improve conditions, Aguinda said.

"With the cleanup that Texaco left, the air is just unbearable. I can't live above the oil," groaned Aguinda, who grew visibly irritated talking about the disaster.

"If someone comes here from Texaco" he'll get "pepper in his eyes," she winced.

A strong petroleum smell permeates Rumipamba, home to nine families, some of whom complain of headaches. Several areas of Sucumbios are also contaminated, according to the plaintiffs, who argue that merely sinking a shovel into the ground yields a thick layer of crude.

Chevron, which has called the judgment "illegitimate and unenforceable," has asked a judge in Ecuador for clarification of the ruling as it seeks to appeal.

The court last week announced a penalty against Chevron of $8.6 billion with an additional 10 percent for environment management costs.

The plaintiffs, too, plan to appeal, saying the ruling fails to adequately compensate for certain damages and illness. They were seeking more than $27 billion in their suit.

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BP puts UK oil and gas field assets up for sale
London (AFP) Feb 22, 2011
BP said Tuesday that it will seek to sell its holdings in a "number" of UK oil and gas fields, as part of an ongoing restructuring. "BP announced today the intention of selling its interests in a number of operated oil and gas fields in the UK," it said in a statement. "The assets involved are the Wytch Farm onshore oilfield in Dorset and all of BP's operated gas fields in the Southern N ... read more

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