Rainforest Communities Devastated by Chevron’s “Amazon Chernobyl” In Ecuador
In February 2011, after an eight-year trial, a court in Ecuador issued a $19 billion judgment against Chevron for causing what could be the worst environmental disaster in history – one that has had devastating consequences for indigenous and farmer communities in the Amazon rainforest.
The 188-page judgment was handed down after an 18-year legal battle that produced overwhelming evidence of Chevron’s Crimes in Ecuador, that Chevron (operating as Texaco) deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic oil waste into the streams and rivers of Ecuador’s once-pristine rainforest. Locals refer to the ongoing disaster as the “Amazon Chernobyl”. Witnesses testified about deaths from cancer, spontaneous miscarriages, and other health impacts.
The evidence presented against Chevron was overwhelming: it included 64,000 chemical sampling results, the company’s own laboratory and internal audit reports, and soil and water testing from numerous independent third parties. The results demonstrate the ongoing presence of harmful toxins and carcinogens at more than 350 Chevron well sites spread out over a 1,500 square-mile area of rainforest. The court also imposed punitive damages on Chevron for engaging in a variety of unethical acts to sabotage the trial and to deceive the court with fraudulent evidence.
In light of an anticipated adverse judgment, Chevron stripped its assets from Ecuador and promised the affected communities “a lifetime of litigation” if they did not drop their claims. To enforce the judgment, the villagers have filed standard collection actions against Chevron in jurisdictions where the company maintains substantial assets (thus far, Canada, Brazil, and Argentina). The Ecuador case is an epic battle for indigenous rights, corporate accountability, access to justice, and environmental protection.
Chevron Used Ecuador As A Dumping Ground
Chevron operated in Ecuador’s Amazon from 1964 to 1992 under the Texaco brand. During that time, to keep its costs to a bare minimum, company engineers built hundreds of oil wells and production stations that deliberately employed sub-standard operating methods that violated host country environmental laws and industry standards.
Chevron’s primary operating defects as proven by evidence before the Ecuador court and the company’s own admissions were as follows:
- First, Chevron created more than 900 unlined waste pits used for the permanent storage of oil sludge and cancer-causing waste, when the pits should have been lined and used for only temporary storage. Chevron also attached pipes to numerous pits to facilitate the discharge of liquid oil waste into nearby streams and rivers relied on by local inhabitants for drinking water, bathing, and fishing.
- Second, Chevron systematically discharged toxic “formation water” directly into streams and rivers on a 24/7 basis. Over time, billions of gallons of this scalding-hot, toxic and highly salinic waste water (which generally contains ten times the salt content of ocean water) were discharged into fresh water sources. This water also contained known human carcinogens such as benzene.
- Third, Chevron burned hundreds of cubic feet of gas and waste oil into the atmosphere, poisoning the air and creating a “black rain” phenomenon. The pits continue to contaminate groundwater and surface water to this day.
These facts were not only proven during the trial, but have been extensively documented by independent researchers and journalists such as Judith Kimerling, who in 1991 published the groundbreaking book Amazon Crude. In reference to Texaco’s reckless practices in Ecuador, environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote in the introduction to Kimerling’s book:
“Nothing in my experience prepared me for the scenes I saw in the Ecuadorian Amazon … like most U.S. citizens, I like to believe that when American companies go abroad, American values go with them. This hasn’t happened in Ecuador.”
Relying on data presented to the court, experts have concluded that thousands of people in the area where Chevron operated are at risk of contracting cancer in the coming years absent an adequate clean-up. Unlike BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Chevron’s environmental catastrophe in Ecuador was not an accident. It was the result of a deliberate attempt by Chevron to externalize the costs of production to a delicate ecosystem that thousands of people depend on for their very survival. The result is an ecological catastrophe that poses known risks to tens of thousands of rainforest inhabitants.
Impact on the Indigenous Peoples
Chevron’s contamination in Ecuador decimated the traditional lifestyles of five indigenous groups whose lands were in Chevron’s concession area – the Cofán, Secoya, Siona, Huaorani, and Quichua. (A smaller indigenous group, the Tetete, reportedly became extinct shortly after Texaco started operating in the area.) The number of Cofán living on the group’s ancestral lands declined from roughly 15,000 to 500 over the course of Chevron’s operations.
The five groups lost access to vast swaths of their ancestral lands due largely to oil development and pollution, making traditional hunting and fishing virtually impossible. Oral testimonies gathered during the trial and by journalists demonstrate that Chevron workers would lie to the indigenous communities, claiming the oil running through their streams and rivers was like milk and replete with vitamins. Historians have documented numerous sexual assaults and rapes against indigenous woman by oil workers. Despite being robbed of their environment by contamination and development, the indigenous communities have tenaciously fought for almost two decades to secure a clean-up to restore their traditional lands and preserve what is left of their cultures.
Summary of Overwhelming Evidence Against Chevron in Ecuador Trial — a 4-page overview.
The Alegato — allegation, in Spanish — is the comprehensive final written argument submitted to the Ecuador trial court by the rainforest communities. The alegato documents the overwhelming scientific evidence against Chevron in Ecuador, and how Chevron’s own scientists helped to prove the case against the company.
The Saenz Affidavit is the sworn testimony of Ecuadorian lawyer Juan Pablo Saenz about Chevron’s many attempts to corrupt and derail the trial in Ecuador.
The Donziger Counterclaims document some of Chevron’s ‘bad acts’ during the trial in Ecuador and manipulation of evidence.