Chevron faces Billion-Dollar Liability for damage in Ecuador
Amazon Watch release
August 24, 2005
ChevronTexaco, now Chevron Corp (CVX), appears to be losing ground in the environmental “Trial of the Century” in Ecuador’s rainforest over Texaco’s operation of a former concession, according to the environmental group Amazon Watch.
Leila Salazar, spokesperson for Amazon Watch, which is monitoring the litigation, said the results of the scientific inspections from 14 well sites of the 350 operated by Texaco have been submitted to the court in the jungle town of Lago Agrio as part of the judicial process. Of 569 water and soil samples collected by both sides and analyzed by independent, certified laboratories, 341 — or 60 percent — violate Ecuador law regulating petroleum activity. Chevron’s own sampling has produced devastating proof against itself — for example, of 77 water samples submitted to the court by Chevron, 75 (97 percent) violate Ecuadorian legal standards.
The class-action lawsuit alleges that Texaco dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste directly into the rainforest over a 26-year period — about 30 times the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster. An estimated 30,000 people are affected. The only comprehensive damage assessment, completed in 2003 by the American firm Global Environmental Operations, concluded cleanup would cost at least $6 billion.
Between the 1967 and the 1990s, the Oriente rainforest of Ecuador suffered serious degradation and deforestation from Texaco’s oil extraction and production activities. Originally it appeared that Texaco (now Chevron) might pull out of the Oriente without reparations, but widespread protests by indigenous peoples, environmentalists, and human rights organizations forced Texaco into negotiations. Texaco projected its clean up costs at a moderate US$5-10 million.
In response to the insufficient clean-up gesture, along with environmental degradation and serious health problems among local peoples, lead attorney Cristobal Bonifaz filed a US$1.5 billion class action lawsuit (Maria Aguinda, et al., v. Texaco Inc.) against Texaco in White Plains, NY on behalf of 30,000 indigenous peoples affected by the oil company’s operations. Other suits against Texaco in Ecuador had failed allegedly because of Texaco’s political influence with the Ecuadorean judiciary.
Savages, a book by Joe Kane, tells the story of the Huaorani, a tribe living in the deepest part of the Amazonian rain forest in Ecuador, and their struggles with Texaco.
According to tabulations by the Amazon Defense Coalition (Frente), which represents the affected communities, Chevron submitted 223 water and soil samples to the courts that violated Ecuador norms, which generally are considered 10 to 40 times more lax than those in the U.S. One Chevron soil sample came in at an alarming 265,338 parts per million of Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons — 25 times higher than the Ecuadorian norm.
The Coalition also reveals that of the 107 water samples submitted to the court by both sides, 98 percent contain high levels of toxics that violate Ecuadorian law. Of the 107 soil samples taken by the plaintiffs, 84 percent violate Ecuador law.
Fifteen more inspections are planned in 2005, according to Pablo Fajardo, lawyer for the plaintiffs. A decision in the trial, which will be made by a judge, is expected in early 2007.
The inspections and the analysis are produced by court appointed experts with experience in the petroleum industry, such as chemical engineers, geologists, and petroleum engineers.
Today, outside Chevron’s global headquarters in San Ramon, Amazon Watch is offering “taste tests” of water samples from well sites the company says it remediated to employees on their lunch break.
Full release and background are available at www.chevrontoxico.com. Press contact: Leila Salazar, Amazon Watch at 415-487-9600 ext 1.
This is a press release from Amazon Watch.