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Texaco Fined for Second Gas Spill in One Year

May 28, 2004

GRANADA, Nicaragua – TheNicaraguan Energy Institute this weekgave transnational oil company TexacoCaribbean Inc. a Thursday-afternoon deadlineto pay a 100,000-córdoba fine($6,330) for environmental damagescaused by a gas spill last month at itsMasaya gas station, 29 kilometers east ofManagua.If Texaco does not pay the fine by theend of this week, the transnational couldhave its operating license suspended inNicaragua, the government agency warned.Already in the middle of an environmentaland legal firestorm, Texaco wasforced to close the Masaya station lastweek – its second station to close in oneyear – following an accidental spill of3,000 gallons of Super gasoline. The spilloccurred when a driver backed into one ofthe pumps.THE closure of the Masaya stationcame one week after Oilwatch Mesoaméricaand the Humboldt Center, aNicaraguan environmental watchdoggroup, announced they are preparing alawsuit against the same oil company fordamages caused by a separate accidentalspill of 5,253 gallons last May at theTexaco Industrial Park gas station, east ofManagua.The first spill seeped into the soil andwater supply of the nearby population ofUnidad de Propósitos, a neighborhood ofsome 100 residents. Aquifer tests conductedas recently as last month by theNicaraguan Energy Institute revealed thepresence of petroleum in the drinkingwater, although the extent of the contaminationis still unknown.The Ministry of the Environment andNatural Resources, working in coordinationwith a seven-member commission,ordered the Industrial Park station closedand submitted a resolution last Novemberaccusing Texaco of negligence and violatingenvironmental laws. The resolutioncalled for Texaco to conduct a study of theenvironmental damages and pay an undeterminedindemnification.TEXACO appealed elements of theresolution, taking its case as high as theSupreme Court last January. Although thetransnational oil company has not yet compliedwith the resolution, Texaco’s legalrepresentative in Nicaragua, Juan CarlosHabed, was quoted last month in the dailyEl Nuevo Diaro saying the oil companyhas always recognized the error and iswilling to fix the problem.Still, Texaco’s incompliance with theresolution thus far, and the EnvironmentalProsecutor’s failure to enforce theEnvironment Ministry’s order, has raisedconcerns among non-governmentalgroups.Henry Lopéz, coordinator of theHumboldt Center’s Oil and Mega-ProjectCampaign, told The Tico Times his organization’sfuture lawsuit will aim torequire Texaco to take responsibility forthe spill, as well as pay indemnificationfor damages to the environment and surroundingpopulation. The HumboldtCenter is working out the technicalaspects of the lawsuit and awaiting theresults of an environmental-damageassessment before assigning an amountto damages sought, Lopéz said.The suit will be presented in aNicaraguan court, and perhaps also in theUnited States, he added.MEANWHILE, the non-governmentalorganization Young Environmentalists’Club announced last month itwould investigate alleged gas spills atfive other Texaco stations around thecountry.Texaco’s Habed has not returned multipleTico Times requests for comment inthe past two weeks.

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