Friday, April 17, 2015

The Chevron Tapes: 30 Years and Still Waiting for Justice

Reposted from Eye on the Amazon

Last week, Amazon Watch released The Chevron Tapes, internal Chevron videos leaked to us by a company whistleblower which show the company finding and mocking contamination in areas of the Amazon rainforest it claims to have cleaned up years ago.

The videos also included revealing interviews with area residents in which they denounce Chevron's pollution and recount how it never cleaned up waste pits and instead covered them with dirt. We don't know how the Chevron interviewers presented themselves to the residents, but it seems unlikely that they were honest about who they were or what they were doing.

Well over a million people have already viewed last week's video, and many told us that they were deeply affected by a resident named José describing how he lost three daughters due to the toxic contamination of his home. In the interview that Chevron filmed of him in 2006, he painfully related that when his daughters were dying, company representatives told him that they would send help, that they would "come quickly" and "take responsibility" for their condition. He said that he had been waiting for over twenty years and they still hadn't arrived. That video was shot almost ten years ago, so José has now been waiting for about thirty years.

This week we're highlighting José's story and providing more of his leaked interview.

Chevron's response to these damning videos is to claim that they "may have been taken out of context." The full videos are available online, but we decided to provide still more "context" for Chevron's benefit.

In the leaked video, José says that he's lived in the same place since before there was any oil exploration in the area. He lives near Dureno Uno, the very first first oil well that Chevron drilled in the area. Dureno Uno was the original sin that brought ruin to José's rainforest paradise, and Chevron alone was responsible for operating it until it left the country in 1990. José's daughters died in the mid-1980's, so the company has no one else it can blame for their deaths.

You don't need to take our word for it. To corroborate José's testimony, we've re-released a 2010 interview that Amazon Watch filmed of Jhinsop Martinez Erraez, a former oil worker at the Dureno Uno well. In the video, Jhinsop recalls the helplessness he felt at being ordered by Chevron to dump toxic waste directly into the rainforest, day after day:

The wastewater was dumped into a ravine, a stream, without any treatment at all.
...and at that time these were mountainous lands, pure rainforest existed, rich in flora and fauna; and this destroyed everything. And since we were just simple workers we couldn't say anything.

Of course, Dureno Uno wasn't the only site where Chevron operated with criminal disregard for people and the environment. Over the course of its time as the sole operator of the oil concession in the northeastern rainforest region in Ecuador, on top of spilling millions gallons of crude and abandoning hundreds of waste pits filled with poisonous sludge, Chevron dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater directly into rivers and streams depended upon by thousands of men, women, and children for drinking and bathing.

It's estimated that 10,000 people in the region will get cancer. Over 1,400 have already died.

Besides the testimony of men like José and Jhinsop, how do we know? How do we know that other wells and facilities throughout the sprawling Ecuadorian oilfields were operated in the same deliberately reckless fashion? In fact, we know this from the company's own audits, commissioned as it was preparing to depart Ecuador. Test results from judicial inspections proved that Chevron left toxins at levels many times higher than the legal limits, and recent expert reports demonstrate that many sites remain alarmingly toxic to this day.

Despite being exposed by these whistleblower videos, Chevron continues to claim that this systematic daily poisoning of the region's soil and waters over decades posed (and poses) no threat to the people living there.

Fulfilling its pledge of a "lifetime of litigation" for the Ecuadorians, Chevron has since sued them alleging their case was a fraud and claims to be the true victim. We'd like to see them explain this to José and his remaining family. After thirty years of waiting they deserve some measure of justice.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

In Ecuador, Chevron Found Contamination – and Comedy – in Soil They Testified Was Clean

Reposted from AmericaBlog

In my last post, I wrote on the side of large corporations, encouraging forgiveness for well-intentioned but tone-deaf actions on the part of social good. That's because Starbucks is a bastion of justice and equality when compared to deeply polluting, institutionalized evil as embodied in Chevron's dealings in Ecuador.

This is not new news, but rather a recently resurfaced hydra head of the ages-long lawsuit of Chevron versus the Ecuadorian plaintiffs as represented by the Amazon Defense Coalition. This story, beginning in 1993, features Texaco-turned-Chevron drilling in Ecuador, systematically ignoring pollution and waste hazards, subsequently contaminating the land and water so badly that Ecuadorian residents are still suffering from it. Ecuador’s 1993 class-action lawsuit against Chevron has since bounced around in a really complicated fashion from court to court, as both sides have appealed any decision that did not come out in their favor.

But last week, proving that nothing embarrassing on the Internet ever goes away, some leaked footage began circulating online — evidence from supposedly “cleaned up” Texaco drilling sites that proved just how much the oil company knew about the reach of its pollution:

In the videos, consultants hired by Chevron to do inspections of the area “keep finding petroleum where it’s not supposed to be,” as one of them joked. He and another inspector lightheartedly bicker back and forth about the inconvenience of finding contaminated soil cores even in the areas that they had specifically selected for off-site, supposedly clean sampling. After pulling up a few more samples so polluted that a simple sniff can detect petroleum, they call off the hunt and discuss plan B, which is “not beating it to death” with a rigorous lab test. The audio and transcript hint at unsurprised impatience for the discovery of oil in places that Chevron would later testify were clean — concern for the complications that might ensue for the legal process, but no concern for the effects on humans or land beyond Chevron’s own.

The Chevron Tapes,” as people are calling them, were last aired in 2011, during a trial in Ecuador in which Chevron was ordered to pay 9.5 billion dollars in damages to the affected communities and the Amazon Defense Coalition, the group formed to represent them, as well as to help clean up their mess. The judge also ruled that this amount would double if Chevron did not issue a public apology to the affected groups in Ecuador. Not only did Chevron flip Ecuador the bird and refuse to pay, it also filed a civil suit against the group, claiming that their evidence was bunk. Chevron won that round last year and, the next appeal is set to be heard next Monday in New York.

The tapes will not be used as evidence in the proceedings, but Amazon Watch wants you to watch them now. They would like to remind the public that despite the legal quibbling — 22 years of it — over cost, accountability and enforcement, one of these sides in the trial is audibly, visibly, morally wrong:

What’s really frustrating, apart from the ongoing contamination in Ecuador that is lowering the living standards of residents in the affected areas, is how long the struggle has been allowed to play out. Following the bouncing court case from local to regional — from Ecuador to the United States to Canada — the tangled web of non-resolution shows that no one knows who can or should be the law enforcer for large international corporations, who wield their limited liability with a sneer and a joke.

If we have no cohesive mechanism to hold large corporations accountable for their actions, we're going to get even more of this: perpetrators laughing in the face of pollution.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Chevron Whistleblower Videos Prove Oil Giant's Guilt in Ecuador - AGAIN

Reposted from The Huffington Post

On April 8th, Amazon Watch released secret videos turned over by a Chevron whistleblower that clearly show company technicians finding extensive oil pollution at well sites in the Amazon that Chevron had previously certified as "remediated". The videos are amazingly damning to Chevron.

51 DVDs sent to Amazon Watch anonymously by a Chevron whistleblowerThe note along with DVDs said:

"I hope this is useful for you in the trial against Texaco/Chevron!" Signed, "A friend from Chevron."

I have watched these DVDs many times, and as I write this they sit on my desk as a reminder that as Shakespeare wrote, "the truth will out." Even if it needs to out over and over again in Chevron's case. We all knew the toxic waste in Chevron's former well sites in Ecuador was still there – that's why Chevron was found liable by a trial judge and two separate appellate courts. The evidence against Chevron – still there – is overwhelming.

In fact, this article on Huffington Post shows recent samples taken from the area that provide yet another layer of evidence to prove Chevron's guilt. The difference is that this time it is CHEVRON'S OWN VIDEOS saying what everyone else has said for decades – the company is guilty. Thanks, anonymous whistleblower.

I shouldn't really need to say anything more – the videos speak for themselves. Watch them.

However, since Chevron's spokespeople, in their feeble attempts to respond, have lobbed some meatballs over the plate, I may as well smack them out of the park:

CHEVRON LIE: All well sites Chevron/Texaco was "responsible for" were fully remediated.

TRUTH: Chevron/Texaco only pretended to remediate a small portion of the waste pit sites, pushing dirt over top of them, planting some trees and leaving them there while they continued to poison local communities.

PROOF: Chevron's own video (full clip here) shows company consultants lifting toxic waste samples from Shushufindi 21 almost a decade after it was allegedly cleaned. Other sites remain alarmingly toxic to this day and recent reports of that can be found here. These test results from other judicial inspections demonstrate Chevron left toxins at levels many times higher than the legal limits. [Note: Ecuadorian standard at the time for legal levels of contamination was 1000 TPH yet the Texas equivalent standard was only 100.]

Amazonian resident Merla was an eyewitness to Texaco simply pushing dirt over the pits and also says this explicitly in this leaked video. Another Ecuadorian, Rene shows his contaminated water in 2005 where he lived - on top of "remediated" pits from Shushufindi 10.

CHEVRON LIE: Amazon Watch's presentation of the leaked Chevron videos are taken out of context and there's no way to know where they are from.

TRUTH: The raw are available and linked in the main video. They show Chevron employees testing soils before the trial in Ecuador at sites where they believed they had to defend their remediation agreement. Chevron only tested sites that it believed were their responsibility. Chevron's straw man argument is absurd since there's no explanation for finding extensive contamination at any of the sites the company claimed to have remediated.

PROOF: Again, the videos are crystal clear. This one opens with a shot of the map at Shushufindi 21 in case there was any doubt as to its location. This was a well site operated only by Texaco where Chevron claimed a full remediation had taken place. And here frustrated workers find contamination "where it shouldn't be" over and over again.

Oh, and if you're wondering why I didn't include a "Chevron lie" about deliberately dumping the toxic waste in the first place, well that's because they don't even deny doing it!

That ball is "outta here". Walk-off.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Chevron Tapes: How U.S. Federal Judge Kaplan Tried to Help Oil Giant Hide Its Corruption in Ecuador

Reposted from The Chevron Pit.

The stunning internal Chevron internal videos released last week by VICE and the environmental group Amazon Watch demonstrate the oil company knew of its massive contamination in Ecuador's rainforest and had an elaborate ruse to lie about it in court.

That the Chevron trickery failed and it lost the trial anyway changes little about the company's venal attempt to get away with its fraud in the first place. What is becoming increasingly clear is that while most large oil companies are bad, Chevron under CEO John Watson's leadership has become real bad. In fact, as the tapes show, the company is flirting dangerously with the outer boundaries of the law.

Less well known is why the Chevron tapes took so long to see the light of day. An apparent whistleblower from the company mailed them to Amazon Watch in 2011 with a note signed, "A friend from Chevron." (For background on the tapes and to view them, see here for Amazon Watch's version and here for the Vice News report.)

The delay in the release of the tapes is to a great degree the result of what we would consider to be highly devious and inappropriate attempts by both Chevron and U.S. federal judge Lewis A. Kaplan to suppress them as evidence. Chevron and Kaplan did this by trying to claim the tapes were "confidential" throughout Chevron's retaliatory RICO proceeding against the Ecuadorian villagers, which took place with Kaplan presiding from February 2011 to March of 2014.

Amazon Watch had quietly turned over the Chevron tapes to lawyers who had prosecuted Chevron in Ecuador and were later forced to defend themselves before Judge Kaplan. Kaplan was no neutral arbiter. He had disparaged the Ecuadorian villagers from the bench, invited Chevron to bring the case, and then assigned it to his court. (For the general background on how Chevron made a mockery of justice before Kaplan, see this analysis.)

As the "racketeering" trial date neared in the Fall of 2013, the U.S. attorneys Steven Donziger (the longtime legal advisor to the affected villagers) and Julio Gomez (representing two Ecuadorian defendants) tried to use the tapes in a deposition of Chevron's chief scientist, Sara McMillan. It was McMillan and Chevron consultant John Connor who helped design the company's clearly deceptive soil sampling strategy for the Ecuador trial. This strategy can be seen in the videos and a soil sampling "playbook" that directed the company's field hands to only find "clean" samples at well sites otherwise saturated with oil waste.

(Chevron's "playbook" fraud helps one understand exactly what its technicians are doing in the secret videos. See this article by Karen Hinton in the Huffington Post for more background on this aspect of Chevron's fraud.)

Chevron, however, immediately claimed confidentiality over the videos during the McMillan deposition and with Kaplan's backing was able to shut down any questioning about them. Earlier, Chevron lawyer Ethan Dettmer sent a letter to lawyers for the Ecuadorians demanding that the videos be returned to the company – even though the lawyers had no power (nor obligation) to do so, given that the originals were in the hands of Amazon Watch. In writing the letter, Dettmer acknowledged that the videos were Chevron's property.

Even though the internal Chevron videos clearly were relevant to several key issues regarding the Ecuador judgment – including Chevron's attempt to corrupt the evidence-gathering process – Kaplan would not let them be used either in deposition or in trial. In fact, Kaplan jumped through hoops to prevent Chevron's repeated attempts to sabotage the judicial process in Ecuador from ever seeing the light of day in his courtroom.  (For a sense of the extent of Chevron's profoundy disturbing misconduct in Ecuador suppressed by Kaplan, see this affidavit by Ecuadorian lawyer Juan Pablo Saenz.)

Kaplan also helped Chevron suppress the most critical evidence of all. That's the 105 technical reports submitted to the Ecuador court by various experts that demonstrate Chevron left behind extensive and life-threatening levels of contamination at hundreds of its former well sites when it abandoned the country in 1992. These reports – most of them authored by Chevron's own experts – were only the basis for the finding of liability against the company by three layers of courts in Ecuador.

These are just a few of the reasons why we call the Chevron/Kaplan racketeering proceeding a show trial. As the appellate briefs show (see here and here), the trial was reverse-engineered by a judge who refused to seat a jury and who clearly disliked the notion of sophisticated American lawyers working with Amazonian villagers to hold a large American company accountable. Kaplan's disdain for the entire notion of Ecuadorian courts hearing a case against an American company is palpable throughout the transcripts of the proceeding.

Given that the appeal of Judge Kaplan's decision in favor of Chevron will be heard next week in Manhattan by a three-judge panel, let's review the highlights of his pro-Chevron bias:

  • He repeatedly disparaged the villagers in open court – calling them the "so-called" plaintiffs "said to reside" in the Amazon rainforest.
  • Prior to trial and without as much as an evidentiary hearing, he tried to impose an unprecedented and blatantly illegal global injunction purporting to block the villagers from enforcing their judgment anywhere in the world. The injunction was reversed unanimously the first business day after oral argument.
  • He called Steven Donziger, the U.S. lawyer for the villagers, a "p.r. flak" who was trying to use the case to "fix the balance of payments deficit" of the United States.
  • He allowed Chevron to pay $2 million to an admittedly corrupt former Ecuadorian judge to testify about a supposed "bribe" that never occurred.
  • He refused to admit into evidence any of the three decisions from Ecuador's trial and appellate courts finding Chevron liable and imposing damages.

We note that since the end of the "racketeering" trial even more evidence has emerged (see this new blog) from the authoritative Louis Berger Group showing that Chevron lied about having remediated its waste pits in Ecuador. This new sampling data further underscores the absurdity of Kaplan's rulings related to the company's contamination.

We believe a decision by a U.S. trial judge based so obviously on a distorted view of the evidence will have little credibility in enforcement courts in Canada and Brazil where the courageous Ecuadorian villagers are trying to seize Chevron's assets. Chevron obviously agrees given its gargantuan effort to block the Canadian enforcement action from even proceeding to the merits.

In the meantime, Amazon Watch has done the world a great service by reviewing, dubbing, and releasing Chevron's secret tapes. Doing so was an extraordinary act of courage by both the Chevron whistleblower and one of the nation's leading environmental groups.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Chevron Whistleblower Videos Show Deliberate Falsification of Evidence in Ecuador Oil Pollution Trial

Reposted from DeSmogBlog

Chevron has already lost the lawsuit filed against the company by a group of Indigenous villagers and rural Ecuadorians who say Texaco, which merged with Chevron in 2001, left behind hundreds of open, unlined pits full of toxic oil waste it had dug into the floor of the Amazon rainforest.

That hasn't stopped the oil titan from attempting to retry the case, though, in both the court of public opinion and a New York court, where it counter-sued the Ecuadorian plaintiffs under the RICO Act, claiming their original lawsuit was nothing more than extortion.

But new videos released by an anonymous Chevron whistleblower undermine the company's entire defense in the original suit as well as its RICO counterattack.

Chevron's defense in the Ecuador pollution case hinges on the company's assertion that, before leaving the country when its partnership with state-owned Petroecuador ended in the early 1990s, Texaco remediated a portion of the 350 drill sites and more than 900 associated waste pits, as per its agreement with the Ecuadorean government.

The Ecuadorian plaintiffs argue that, as the sole operator of those drilling operations, Chevron/Texaco is liable for the carcinogenic oil contamination of watercourses, soil and groundwater that leached out of the waste pits and overflowed into local streams and rivers. After inheriting Texaco's liability, Chevron countered that it had fulfilled its obligations per the terms of its partnership and that the plaintiffs' real target should be Petroecuador, which Chevron blames for the pollution.

In 2011, Chevron lost the court battle in Ecuador — the venue Chevron itself chose — and was ordered to pay $9.5 billion to clean up its oil pollution in the Amazon. But Chevron had already infamously vowed "We will fight until hell freezes over and then fight it out on the ice," and the company has been true to its word. Only now has evidence emerged to show just how dirty Chevron was fighting.

"These videos prove Chevron knew full well their ‘remediated' sites were still contaminated before the trial in Ecuador had even finished," Amazon Watch's Paul Paz y Miño said in a statement to DeSmogBlog. "Rather than admit that and help people who would be affected, they hid what they knew and denied it to the courts and to the world. Worse than that, they went on to blame the very same people affected by their waste as making it all up to extort money from Chevron."

One video from March 2005, when the trial in Ecuador was ongoing, shows Chevron contractors examining a core sample and finding petroleum at a well site that Texaco claimed to have remediated. When a worker named Dave tells a Chevron employee named Rene about the discovery, Rene jokingly chastises the worker, saying, "Nice job, Dave. Give you one simple task: Don't find petroleum." (Skip to the 1:40 mark in the video below.)

In a press release, Amazon Watch, which first received the videos along with a note signed "A friend from Chevron," says that the video shows Rene, the Chevron employee, and several Chevron consultants visiting the well site to perform a "pre-inspection," an attempt to find uncontaminated spots where they could take soil and water samples during site inspections set to happen later with the presiding trial judge in attendance.

The Ecuadorian plaintiffs maintained all along that Texaco had not cleaned the well sites at all, but in many cases simply pushed dirt on top of the waste pits and left. Another one of Chevron's pre-inspection videos included an interview with a local woman named Merla who lives near one of the well sites Texaco claimed to have remediated. Merla tells the Chevron interviewer just how drastic an impact Texaco's oil pollution has had on her and her family:

Merla: We've had our cows die.... They drank the water where the oil had spilled. Back then, that whole area was full of crude oil. The water there was filthy. They came and stopped the leak and they just left all of the crude oil there. It's pure crude there. In the middle, it's a thick ooze and you'd sink right down into it.

Chevron Interviewer: When was this oil spill?

Merla: More than 20 years ago... But I still remember it, how there was oil over everything. The cows still die there. They came, threw some dirt on top of the crude oil, and there it stayed.

Chevron Interviewer: How long ago did they cover up the pit?

Merla: 19 years... Texaco. They came here and just covered up the oil. They kept saying they were going to clean it up and they never did. And then they disappeared.

Chevron Interviewer: Did they remove the crude oil?

Merla: They dumped a lot of dirt on it and that was it.

"Chevron has spent hundreds of millions to counter attack their own victims and try to sow doubt in their claims," Paz y Miño says in his statement. "What these videos prove is that their retaliation is built on a complete lie."

Chevron has refused to pay the $9.5 billion judgement, even after appealing to Ecuador's highest courts and losing every time. Paz y Miño says there is no doubt these videos will come into play in the legal efforts undertaken by the Ecuadorian plaintiffs to seize Chevron assets in Canada and elsewhere. "No matter how [Chevron] tries to spin these videos," he says, "they clearly show their own representatives finding contamination where they insist there is none."

The provenance of the videos is not in doubt, as Chevron's lawyers with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher acknowledge their authenticity in a letter seeking the videos' return that was shared with DeSmogBlog.

Chevron secured a favorable ruling in its RICO suit last year from Judge Lewis Kaplan of the Southern District of New York, meaning the company's US assets cannot be seized to pay off its debt in Ecuador. But if Chevron's own records show that it had not remediated the well sites and waste pits, that completely erodes its claim that the case against it in Ecuador was not valid, Paz y Miño says.

"The RICO complaint doesn't stand regardless of the videos, because it's based on corrupt testimony from paid witnesses, but the videos expose that Chevron simply fabricated the RICO case since they knew for a fact they were liable in Ecuador for that remediation."