FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Making Chevron Pay

by MARK WEISBROT

Environmentalists seem to realize that they have some stake in a fight such as the Ecuador-Chevron lawsuit.  In that case, which Chevron has recently moved to an international arbitration panel in an attempt to avoid a multi-billion penalty handed down by Ecuadorian courts, it is about whether a multinational oil corporation will have to pay damages for pollution, for which it is responsible.  Most environmentalists figure that would be a good thing.

But what about fights between multinational oil giants and the governments of oil-producing states, over control of resources?  Do people who care about the environment and climate change have a stake in these battles?  It appears that they do, but most have not yet noticed it.

In December of last year Exxon Mobil won a judgment against the government of Venezuela for assets that the government had nationalized in 2007.  The award was actually a victory for the government of Venezuela:  Exxon had sued for $12 billion, but won only $908 million.   After subtracting off $160 million the court said was owed to Venezuela, Exxon ended up with a $748 million judgment.  The ruling was made by an arbitration panel of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).  On February 15th, Venezuela paid Exxon $250 million and announced that the case was settled.

The case has been widely seen as extremely important among oil industry analysts although it didn’t get that much attention elsewhere.  Some background:  the dispute arose out of the Venezuelan government’s decision to take a majority stake in oil extraction, in accordance with its law.  In 2005 it entered into negotiations with foreign oil companies to purchase enough of their assets in order to achieve a majority stake.  Almost all of the negotiations with dozens of companies were successful, with only Exxon and ConocoPhillips going to arbitration (Conoco is still negotiating).

Exxon adopted a strategy of trying to make an example out of Venezuela, so that no government would try to mess with them.  They went to European courts to freeze $12 billion of Venezuelan assets, but this was reversed within a matter of weeks.  They also went to arbitration at the ICC and at the World Bank’s arbitration panel (ICSID) (the latter case is still pending). But the ICC gave them much less than the Venezuelan government had reportedly offered them in negotiations. The decision was noted intensely among oil industry specialists – and was seen by developing country governments as an important victory for the developing world —  but didn’t get much attention in the mass media.

This is a big precedent, and of course there are other countries that will continue to have disputes with oil companies over control of resources.  Why should environmentalists care?  Well for those of us who would like to slow the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, we would like to keep more oil in the ground. That is one reason why most environmentalists would support a carbon tax, which would raise the price of carbon emissions.   The main reason that Venezuela insisted on a majority share in these oil projects is that it wants to control production.  Venezuela is a member of OPEC, and abides by the organization’s quotas.  If you want to reduce climate disruption, then you have a big interest in whether governments that want to reduce oil production are able to do so.

A higher price of oil due to reduced production by oil-producing countries reduces oil consumption in the same way that a carbon tax does.  It also encourages the development of non-fossil fuel alternatives, including solar and wind technologies, which become more economically feasible at higher oil prices. (Of course, higher prices do encourage non-OPEC countries to produce more oil and OPEC members to cheat on the cartel, and a carbon tax would not have the same effect; but this would be an argument for a stronger and more inclusive OPEC.)

On the other side, our adversaries have always had the goal of flooding the world with cheap oil, which would of course greatly accelerate global warming.  Before Hugo Chávez was elected in Venezuela, the national oil company (PDVSA) shared that goal with Washington.  But as soon as he was elected, Chávez successfully pushed OPEC to reduce production, moving oil prices off their deep low point of $11 a barrel in 1998.  The U.S. State Department, in a 2002 report, admitted that the U.S. government “provided training, institution building, and other support to individuals and organizations understood to be actively involved” in themilitary coup that briefly overthrew Venezuela’s elected government that year.   That same report also stated that one of the main reasons for Washington’s “displeasure” with Chávez was “his involvement in the affairs of the Venezuelan oil company and the potential impact of that on oil prices.”

Of course it is not politically popular for anyone to appear as pro-OPEC in the rich, oil-consuming countries.  But most environmentalists are willing to support policies, such as a carbon tax, that are not necessarily going to win elections this year.  They should also recognize that they have a stake in the producing states’ struggle with multinational companies over control of fossil fuel and other natural resources.

Mark Weisbrot is an economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: the Phony Crisis.

This article originally appeared in The Guardian

More articles by:

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. and president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of  Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).

November 23, 2017
Kenneth Surin
Discussing Trump Abroad
Jay Moore
The Failure of Reconstruction and Its Consequences
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Trout and Ethnic Cleansing
John W. Whitehead
Don’t Just Give Thanks, Pay It Forward One Act of Kindness at a Time
Chris Zinda
Zinke’s Reorganization of the BLM Will Continue Killing Babies
David Krieger
Progress Toward Nuclear Weapons Abolition
Rick Baum
While Public Education is Being Attacked: An American Federation of Teachers Petition Focuses on Maintaining a Minor Tax Break
Paul C. Bermanzohn
The As-If Society
Cole A. Turner
Go Away, Kevin Spacey
Ramzy Baroud
70 Years of Broken Promises: The Untold Story of the Partition Plan
Binoy Kampmark
A New Movement of Rights and the Right in Australia
George Ochenski
Democratic Party: Discouraged, Disgusted, Dysfunctional
Nino Pagliccia
The Governorship Elections in Venezuela: an Interview With Arnold August
Christopher Ketcham
Spanksgiving Day Poem
November 22, 2017
Jonathan Cook
Syria, ‘Experts’ and George Monbiot
William Kaufman
The Great American Sex Panic of 2017
Richard Moser
Young Patriots, Black Panthers and the Rainbow Coalition
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima Darkness
Lee Artz
Cuba Libre, 2017
Mark Weisbrot
Mass Starvation and an Unconstitutional War: US / Saudi Crimes in Yemen
Frank Stricker
Republican Tax Cuts: You’re Right, They’re Not About Economic Growth or Lifting Working-Class Incomes
Edward Hunt
Reconciling With Extremists in Afghanistan
Dave Lindorff
Remembering Media Critic Ed Herman
Nick Pemberton
What to do About Al Franken?
November 21, 2017
Gregory Elich
What is Behind the Military Coup in Zimbabwe?
Louisa Willcox
Rising Grizzly Bear Deaths Raise Red Flag About Delisting
David Macaray
My Encounter With Charles Manson
Patrick Cockburn
The Greatest Threats to the Middle East are Jared Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman
Stephen Corry
OECD Fails to Recognize WWF Conservation Abuses
James Rothenberg
We All Know the Rich Don’t Need Tax Cuts
Elizabeth Keyes
Let There be a Benign Reason For Someone to be Crawling Through My Window at 3AM!
L. Ali Khan
The Merchant of Weapons
Thomas Knapp
How to Stop a Rogue President From Ordering a Nuclear First Strike
Lee Ballinger
Trump v. Marshawn Lynch
Michael Eisenscher
Donald Trump, Congress, and War with North Korea
Tom H. Hastings
Reckless
Franklin Lamb
Will Lebanon’s Economy Be Crippled?
Linn Washington Jr.
Forced Anthem Adherence Antithetical to Justice
Nicolas J S Davies
Why Do Civilians Become Combatants In Wars Against America?
November 20, 2017
T.J. Coles
Doomsday Scenarios: the UK’s Hair-Raising Admissions About the Prospect of Nuclear War and Accident
Peter Linebaugh
On the 800th Anniversary of the Charter of the Forest
Patrick Bond
Zimbabwe Witnessing an Elite Transition as Economic Meltdown Looms
Sheldon Richman
Assertions, Facts and CNN
Ben Debney
Plebiscites: Why Stop at One?
LV Filson
Yemen’s Collective Starvation: Where Money Can’t Buy Food, Water or Medicine
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail