Friday, December 18, 2009

Letter to New Chevron CEO, John Watson: You Have an Opportunity to Resolve Human Tragedy in Ecuador

Cross-posted from Huffington Post:

On January 1st, John Watson will become the new Chairman and CEO of Chevron Corporation. Within the first few months of his tenure, a judgment is expected on a monumental environmental lawsuit for cleanup of oil contamination affecting tens of thousands of people living in an Amazon rainforest region of Ecuador called the Oriente.

Following is an open letter to Mr. Watson from Atossa Soltani, the founder and Executive Director of Amazon Watch, an organization that works to protect the rainforest and advance the rights of indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin. The letter references a confidential corporate memo [see it here] that provides shocking insight into the reckless practices employed by Texaco (now Chevron) in Ecuador. To add your name to a petition to Mr. Watson supporting clean-up in Ecuador, click here.

December 17, 2009

Mr. John S. Watson
 Incoming Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
 Chevron Corporation

Dear Mr. Watson:

I write to you on behalf of Amazon Watch to express our hope that as Chief Executive of Chevron Corporation you will have the fortitude and vision to genuinely address the most painful and immediate challenge facing your company - the Ecuador disaster.

Our hope is that you will not miss this critical opportunity to resolve the human and environmental tragedy in Ecuador and transform Chevron into the responsible 21st century energy company professed in 'The Chevron Way' and in your 'Human Energy' advertising campaigns.

Your company is currently facing a $27.3 billion financial liability in Ecuador. We ask that you reflect on Chevron's handling of the Ecuador situation over the course of the last decade. You should remember Chevron's Annual General Shareholder Meeting in April 2001 - on the eve of the Texaco acquisition - when I delivered to your company a binder, titled "El Dorado," with more than 500 pages of comprehensive evidence documenting Texaco's massive environmental contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon. At that meeting, I warned Chevron that by acquiring Texaco the company would not only take on the moral responsibility of rectifying the tragedy in the Amazon, but also assume a very costly financial liability.

Despite increasing shareholder and analyst concern, the growing public demand that Chevron take responsibility for its actions in Ecuador, and the resulting multi-billion liability they have spawned, Amazon Watch has witnessed your company pursue an expensive, ethically questionable, and counterproductive policy with regard to the Ecuador case.

Mr. Watson, as you surely know, the situation on the ground is dire. Thousands of acres of once pristine rainforest have been devastated by oil pollution. More than 30,000 indigenous peoples and campesinos have been left without clean water to drink. Children play beside toxic waste pits. Young women have been ravaged by stomach and uterine cancer due to poisoned water. As you are well aware, Texaco has admitted to having deliberately released 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into the waterways of the Ecuadorian Amazon, and to having left hundreds of abandoned unlined pits filled with crude oil and poison sludge over the course of more than two decades of oil operations. And now, as a direct result, a devastating public health crisis has consumed the region.

We are keenly attuned to Chevron's public relations strategy with respect to this matter. The basic approach is to consistently blame the contamination of the Amazon on Petroecuador, Ecuador's National Oil Company. Petroecuador's poor record of environmental stewardship - largely because it has used an oil production system built by Texaco and designed to pollute - does not diminish Texaco's responsibility for catastrophic contamination from 1964 to 1990. Texaco's deliberate dumping dwarfs any subsequent pollution. Rather than continuing to shift the blame to Petruecuador, it is time for Chevron to assume the responsibility for Texaco's legacy in Ecuador.

To remind you of Texaco's unethical practices in the 1970's, we have attached here a confidential memorandum from the Chairman of the Texaco Board of Directors to the Acting Manager of Texaco in Ecuador in 1972. The memo instructs the staff only to report "major events as per Oil Spill Response Plan" if they attract "the attention of press and/or regulatory authorities" and goes on to instruct: "no reports are to be kept on a routine basis and all previous reports to be removed...and destroyed." We trust that as the incoming CEO of Chevron, you do not condone this kind of denial, neglect and obfuscation made plain in the 1972 Texaco memo. We are interested in hearing your position on the matter.

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, it is our understanding that you have never been to Ecuador, Mr. Watson. It is of great concern to us, and should be to you, that the information and advice provided to Chevron senior management since the Texaco acquisition has lacked integrity and independence. We do not believe that a well-informed and responsible senior management team could reasonably pursue the current "blind fight" legal and public relations strategy if it indeed possessed accurate information. Consequently, and with the best intentions, we would like to invite you to visit the affected region of Ecuador in the sincere hope that seeing the abandoned toxic waste pits and poisoned waters and hearing the innumerable stories of human suffering will move you to do the right thing.

Until Chevron takes meaningful steps to resolve this case, it will continue to play out in the courts of Ecuador, as well as in the global court of public opinion. You have a choice between allowing the ongoing suffering and environmental devastation in Ecuador to tarnish your company's reputation, or providing a bold example of 'The Chevron Way,' which states "We respect the law, support universal human rights, protect the environment, and benefit the communities where we work."

Rather than continue to battle the communities that have already paid a heavy price to enrich Chevron, we believe you have an opportunity to help bring an end to their decades of needless suffering.

We don't make these suggestions lightly or symbolically; we appeal to you to resolve this human and environmental tragedy, and lead Chevron into a new era of meaningful corporate social responsibility.

We look forward to your response.


Atossa Soltani

Executive Director

Amazon Watch

– posted by the Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Chevron's Blogger Propagandists: Accuse First, Ask (No) Questions Later

We've written before about the motley crew of bloggers who fervently defend Chevron in its ongoing effort to run from a multibillion dollar liability for environmental disaster in Ecuador. Chevron is certainly not an easy company to stick up for, given its long and sordid history in Ecuador. Chevron's predecessor, Texaco, showed up in the pristine Amazon rainforest in 1964 and left a huge swath of it devastated and polluted by 1990. Chevron acquired Texaco, and its liability in Ecuador, in 2001 and is now the third largest U.S. corporation, with a 2008 profit of $24 billion. And yet this behemoth of an oil company loves to, ludicrously, play the victim card, and when it does, these are the bloggers who fall in line with PR-brushes in tow.

Chevron's blogger allies went into overdrive mode in September, trumpeting Chevron's claims when the oil major announced it had uncovered a $3 million bribery scandal that would implicate the Ecuadorian judge in corruption and, they claimed, prove government interference in the lawsuit. When the news hit, the pro-Chevron bloggers ran wild, crying foul, and trumpeting the Chevron line that a fair trial in Ecuador was impossible.

The only problem was, the smoking gun backfired. Instead of revealing a scandal, the videos themselves–and Chevron's role in presenting them to the media–became the scandal. As my colleague Han Shan documents in his thorough deconstruction of the company's allegations on Huffington Post, the whole "scandal" was nothing but a bizarre set up. By the end of October, it was clear that there was no actual bribe and no actual government officials were involved. Instead the videos merely document what appears to have been a plan to entrap judge Juan Nuñez and get him removed from the case. The man who presents himself as a businessman isn't, though he is a convicted drug-trafficker. The man he purports to bribe in the video is a phony government official (actually a car salesman). And the contracts they discuss were never signed and were proposed for a business that doesn't exist. Nice try, Chevron, but...

Since the bribery scandal imploded, there's been a curious silence from Chevron's merry band of bloggers. This isn't surprising. They're following a well-known propaganda strategy: make dramatic accusations with little supporting evidence, spread those accusations far and wide, then offer no retraction or apology when your claims are later proven to have been wildly off base.

We would like to introduce you to a few of the "pro-Chevron" bloggers out there, and the groundless claims they made in the aftermath of September's phony "bribery scandal":

Carter Wood writes for, a blog sponsored by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), a lobbying group that supports tax cuts, so-called "free trade" and seems to oppose nearly every form of government regulation of industry. Wood's relationship to Chevron is unclear, except that Chevron is a member of the NAM, and Wood went on a trip to Ecuador in June 2009 that was paid for by the company. An online profile of Wood describes his blog as a voice for a "pro-growth, pro-manufacturing agenda." This seems to translate to a blindly pro-corporate agenda, such as is evident in his bizarre assertion in one post that "Class action litigation is, alas, an American legal malady." (This invites the question of what Mr. Wood proposes that large groups of people who have been harmed by corporate misconduct do, or indeed, whether he believes that ever actually happens.)

Thus we might expect a man who feels class-action lawsuits should not exist to jump for joy at the prospect that an environmental cleanup suit against a large U.S. corporation could be derailed by a government corruption scandal. And that he did. Some choice quotes:

On August 31, immediately in the wake of Chevron's bombshell allegations, Wood wrote:

"What's really surprising here is not the corruption – the rule of law has been horribly debased in Ecuador under the regime of Rafael Correa – but the blatant assumptions on display: Of course you can buy a multibillion-dollar verdict against Chevron."

Hold your horses. Not even Chevron ever suggested the clandestine videos it released show evidence of anyone trying to "buy a verdict." The hypothetical bribe discussed in the videos is about securing a contract to do environmental clean-up – nothing to do with influencing the verdict in the trial. This idea is a pure fabrication on Wood's part.

On September 8, Wood again claimed that the videos: "show[ed] that the judge in Ecuador had prejudged the lawsuit...." He made no reference to the actual content of the videos to support this claim. There was a reason for this omission. By this point, news articles in major media, as well as online blog pieces analyzing the video clips, had demonstrated how incredibly flimsy that accusation was, made on the basis of a mumbled, off-camera, "Yes, Sir" in response to an unclear question in garbled Spanish. In fact, the judge refuses thirteen times in the videos to state his intended verdict when asked.

Then we have this gem, from September 18:

"It seems the Ecuadorian government sees the entire litigation as a money-making venture, with Washington Pesantez, the South American country's prosecutor general, now admitting as much."

This is an absurd misrepresentation of the actual Pesantez quote Wood is referencing (which is linked to from Wood's own blog post, so you can read it). What Pesantez actually said was that 90% of any fine paid by Chevron if it loses would go to a fund for environmental clean-up, to be administered by the Ecuadorian government – not pocketed by the government for its own use. Wood and his blogger allies were quickly called out on this utter distortion, but none ever retracted or clarified their statements on the issue.

Bob McCarty is the prolific scribe behind Bob McCarty Writes, a website where, as of this writing, the homepage contains advertisements for "Global Warming is a Myth" T-shirts and videos of "tea party" gatherings. McCarty has been posting regularly on the Ecuador lawsuit for months now. He was invited by Chevron on the all-expenses paid trip to Ecuador that Carter Wood took in June, though due to a scheduling conflict he couldn't go. McCarty, too, jumped eagerly on the "bribery scandal" bandwagon, repeating the most unsubstantiated of Chevron's allegations.

On August 31, McCarty wrote:

"In the videos, the judge confirms that he will rule against Chevron and that appeals by the energy company will be denied – even though the trial is ongoing and evidence is still being received. A purported party official also states that lawyers from the executive branch have been sent to assist the judge in writing the decision."

In fact, the judge confirms none of those things, as even a cursory look at the videos makes clear. "Appeals by the energy company will be denied?" What he actually says on video, obviously to anyone not willfully mistranslating his Spanish, is that the formalities of the appeals process must be respected. It took only a couple days for the news media to out Chevron's interpretation as dubious, but McCarty never softened his stance. As for the "purported party official," McCarty gets props for saying "purported" – but, of course, it turns out that Patricio García, the "official" in question, is a car salesman with no political party connections.

But Bob McCarty isn't done yet! From a follow-up post on September 7:

"The information provided today supports last week's written notification to the government that video recordings existed that show discussions of a prejudged verdict against the company by the judge and details of how the bribe would work."

In fact, there are no "discussions" of a prejudged verdict. Only that one little ambiguous "Yes, sir" at the very end of the conversation. How about details of how the bribe would work? Those details are in fact discussed – without the judge present - but again, it has since become clear that there was no water clean-up business, no actual government connection, and therefore, alas, no bribe.

Alex Thorne seems to blog about the case for one reason: he harbors a personal vendetta against Karen Hinton, the US spokeswoman for the Amazon Defense Coalition. Hinton, to hear Thorne tell it, had the gall to print criticism of his wife in a press release last May. Thorne called it slander. You can read the press release, and decide if anything in it qualifies as slander. Thorne's wife represented Chevron at a "Green Technology" conference. Hinton's press release argued that Chevron's participation in such events is a form of cynical "green washing" that distracts policymakers from its atrocious environmental record. Kristen Thorne's name was incidentally mentioned in the release. Nothing else was said about her. So, in short... yeah, we're also confused as to why this guy is so upset.

In any case, Thorne was quick to post on August 31st:

"Even as evidence is still being collected and the official ruling isn't expected until later this year, the Ecuadorian judge goes as far as to say that he will rule against Chevron and deny its appeals."

We shouldn't have to explain again that the judge said none of that. But Thorne has never shown any deep understanding of the facts behind the case anyway. His source for this outlandish claim? Chevron's press release, of course.

Zennie Abraham is a San Francisco blogger whose topics of interest run the gamut from politics to pop culture. To be honest, we're not quite sure why he ever became interested in the Chevron case in Ecuador. What we do know is that Zennie plays it fast and loose with facts, and, when he's not repeating Chevron talking points, frequently digresses into his own bizarre, non-sequitur ramblings about Ecuador's oil woes.

On August 31, Zennie joined the fray with this statement:

"In a blockbuster development, Ecuador Judge Juan Nunez, the key legal figure in the Chevron Ecuador environmental damage case, is captured in a video shown here explaining that he plans to rule against the oil giant and for an award of $27 billion "more or less". The judge explains that the verdict will happen and that Chevron will be blocked from filing an appeal of his ruling."

Well, Zennie got Nuñez's name right, but not much else. Bizarrely, he even quotes the actual transcript in his post, which makes the distortions going on here incredibly obvious. For example, when asked if the judgment will be $27 billion, what Nuñez says is: "It might be less, and it might be more." In the context of the video it is clear that this is Judge Nuñez's way of saying, "I can't tell you anything, so stop asking." In Zennie's mind, this becomes "more or less" – meaning "approximately" – which is simply not what Nuñez really said.

What set Zennie's posts apart from those of Carter and Bob are the incredible leaps of logic he often indulges in. So, he goes on to say this about Patricio García, the car salesman who appears in the videos masquerading as an official of the ruling party:

"Garcia says that the President's sister Pierina will be helpful (presumably in making sure that the businessmen get their piece of the planned $27 billion pie) and will meet with "The Gringo" (that's Hansen). I checked and "Prierina" is indeed described here as "Pierina Correa, the president's sister and an Alianza País leader in Guayas province". That confirms my assertion that Garcia is tied to the President and his family as he states in the video."

Well, um... actually, all it confirms is that García knows the name of the President's sister. García was still flatly lying about having any connection to her.

Pat Murphy is the creator of the San Francisco Sentinel – which, despite its respectable sounding name, is not a newspaper or even a free weekly, but an obscure online publication. Amid local-interest stories about the arts and San Francisco politics, we find post upon post about Chevron in Ecuador. But... why? Is Murphy paid by Chevron? Or, more likely perhaps, recruited by one of Chevron's PR gurus – perhaps SF-based "crisis control" specialist Sam Singer? Consider how exaggerated and unsupported Murphy's claims about the so-called scandal were:

On September 2nd, Murphy writes:

"As is becoming increasingly clear, the Correa government – in league with American trial attorneys and supporters masquerading as environmental groups – is pulling all the strings in the case brought against Chevron. Judge Nunez is one of a string of puppets controlled by the ruling regime."

Not a shred of evidence at all is provided to support this bold assertion.

A couple days later on September 4th, Murphy writes:

"In the tapes, the judge in the case secretly states that he will find Chevron guilty in the $27 billion case of alleged pollution in the Amazon and that he will deny all appeals by Chevron and its attorneys, despite the fact that the case is still in progress."

As we know, the judge never states any such thing in the videos or elsewhere.

Murphy goes on to conclude, "The videotapes wipe out [the plaintiffs'] case against Chevron, proving the judicial and political system of Ecuador is for sale and is corrupt."

Well, this makes no sense at all. The case against Chevron is based on overwhelming evidence of soil and water contamination. How would these videos, which have nothing to do with the actual situation on the ground in the Amazon, "wipe out" the case?

Steve Foley at also weighed in on the "bribery scandal", with perhaps the most bizarre and over-the-top post of all. What's noteworthy is not how it repeats Chevron's discredited claims about the judge revealing his intended verdict (he doesn't reveal it), or that the company will lose its appeal (the judge says nothing of the sort). Rather, the rest of the post goes on to reveal a bizarre non-sequitur paranoia about "socialism," even going so far as to bring up Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, who has nothing even remotely to do with this case.

The paragraph in question reads (grammar from original):

"Fabian Losa one of Ecuador's top newscasters, according to the clip above, describes the people behind bringing this suit as being like "'watermelons' Green on the outside and Red on the inside" translation – using environmentalism to further a socialist agenda! With fiends like Hugo Chavez and Venezuela, It's no wonder the lawyers who brought the suit, Richard Cabrera, and President Correa are so confident."

By apparently failing to edit his thoughts at all before publishing them, Foley gives us some insight into what would lead someone with no direct stake in the outcome of this case to side with Chevron, one of the world's largest oil companies, over thousands of sick and dying Ecuadorians. The answer, it seems (in at least Foley, Wood and McCarty's cases), is an ideology in which corporations can do no wrong, left-leaning third world governments can do no right, and facts can be twisted as much as necessary to fit those assumptions. It's just a shame the folks in the Chevron cheering section don't take off the ideological blinders long enough to recognize when they were clearly wrong about something, and ‘fess up. At the very least, they owe their readers retractions of completely unsupported and, as it turned out, untrue allegations of Judge Nuñez's complicity in bribery and fraud.

To take a broader outlook, these bloggers might want to rethink their narrow focus on aspects of the case in Ecuador that, we would argue, are a diversion from the real, fundamental issue at hand. This lawsuit was filed in 1993, shortly after Texaco left Ecuador. At its core is a simple claim: in 1964, when Texaco arrived in the Ecuadorian Amazon, the region was pristine. In 1990, when Texaco left and turned over its operations to Petroecuador, the region was an environmental disaster. Never has one of the pro-Chevron bloggers we discussed here opted to seriously address that point; instead, they engage in spurious smear campaigns based on contrived "scandals." The real scandal is the ongoing public health crisis in Ecuador, where hundreds of toxic waste pits dug by Texaco continue to poison the rainforest and, slowly but surely, thousands of its human inhabitants.

– Daniel

Daniel Herriges is a Program Associate at Amazon Watch, as well as a tutor, writer, researcher, and myth-debunker.

Monday, December 14, 2009

International Human Rights Day Panel on Chevron

In honor of International Human Rights Day, Antonia Juhasz, the director of The Chevron Program at Global Exchange, came down to Washington DC on December 10th to host a panel discussion at the Capitol Building. Antonia has been touring with the new edition of her book The Tyranny of Oil, just out in paperback. The Human Rights Day panel consisted of a few of the campaigners working today to highlight the negative impacts oil giant Chevron has on human rights and the environment around the world, and the ways in which communities are coming together to hold Chevron accountable, and fight for more just and sustainable energy solutions.

Juhasz introduced the discussion with an overview of Chevron’s practices globally, and then delved into the messy saga of the monumental trial currently in Ecuador. Kate Watters, the Executive Director of Crude Accountability, continued the discussion with Chevron’s presence in the Caspian Region, specifically Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan. Paul Donowitz of EarthRights International next focused on Burma, and the human rights abuses that have existed hand-in-hand with the infamous Yadana gas project operated by Chevron and its partners [read Paul's talk here]. The final member of the panel, Sowore Omoyele, a Nigerian human rights activist, independent journalist, and founder of Sahara Reporters, brought a captivating and even more sobering end to the presentation with stories of the Niger Delta where Chevron and other oil companies have worked closely with the military to crush local resistance to the human rights abuses and environmental degradation that accompanies their operations.

Altogether, it was an incredible mass of information with an all-too-clear commonality. And on this day in particular, it was crucial for those of us who don’t live in the heart of oil territory and don’t have to worry about how to find clean water or clean air to remember how lucky we are to take these basic human rights for granted.

– Aliyah

Aliyah Field is a Washington DC-based intern with Amazon Watch, and an organizer on the Clean Up Ecuador Campaign.

Friday, December 4, 2009

East Bay Express Article: "The Case Against Chevron"

There is a very thorough and thoughtful article in the East Bay Express (Oakland, CA) about the unprecedented coalition of groups organizing to hold oil giant Chevron accountable for its negative impact on communities from Richmond, California to the Niger Delta to Kazahkstan. The article highlights the new Chevron Program at Global Exchange and has a good section on our Clean Up Ecuador Campaign at Amazon Watch. However, PLEASE NOTE that the article incorrectly states that Amazon Watch filed the original lawsuit against Texaco (now Chevron) for contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon; the original group of plaintiffs who filed the class-action suit in New York in 1993 is the Frente de Defensa de la Amazonía (the Amazon Defense Coalition), representing 30,000 people. The article includes a number of our other allies, including Communities for a Better Environment, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Crude Accountability, Justice in Nigeria Now, and EarthRights International.


By Peter Asmus
December 2, 2009

An unprecedented campaign by at least a dozen nonprofit groups targets the oil company's global operations and reputation.

The oil industry is more powerful today than at any other time in history save the early 20th century. Thanks to last year's record run-up in oil prices, seven of the world's most valuable corporations are now oil companies. Yet just one of those companies has become the focus of intense consumer ire.

Perhaps the largest coordinated activist campaign in history is being launched against the San Ramon-based Chevron Corporation. Foregoing boycotts and other traditional market campaign techniques, non-governmental organizations are creatively communicating the business case for why Chevron should change its ways, focusing on mobilizing company shareholders and consumers to compel the company to come clean and pursue social and environmental leadership.

This unprecedented campaign to make Chevron the poster child of corporate irresponsibility has already persuaded pension funds in California, Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania to consider selling a total of $12 billion in Chevron shares on the grounds that the firm is mismanaging its operations around the globe. The prime focus of this ongoing anti-Chevron effort has been the company's annual shareholder meetings, but protests at the Richmond refinery and a series of movie and PR stunts have been also been effective tactics.

The brains behind the campaign is a small firecracker of a woman, Antonia Juhasz, director of a special new Chevron program for Global Exchange, the San Francisco activist organization. Author of the book entitled The Tyranny of Oil, Juhasz brings to the campaign a depth of knowledge about the oil industry and a penchant for understanding how the media works. It was her idea, for example, to create an alternative shareholder report — The True Cost of Chevron — released in time for Chevron's annual shareholder meeting this past spring. The report, to which more than a dozen activist groups contributed, chronicles environmental and social issues confronting Chevron around the globe. Among other things, it pokes fun at Chevron's "Human Energy" PR campaign.

In its billboards and television ads, Chevron paints itself as part of the solution, and implies that the ingenuity of California and its citizens are already solving the challenges that climate change poses to society. One subtext of this advertising campaign is that global warming can be solved by everyday people. Indeed, the contented Americans depicted in the ads vow "I will use less energy," "I will leave the car at home more," and "I will finally get a programmable thermostat." The True Cost of Chevron campaign mocks this notion, by depicting put-upon villagers who stoically vow, "I will not breathe when outside," "I will give my baby contaminated water," and "I will ignore the toxic waste pits in my village."

"Chevron is emblematic of an industry that is out of control," Juhasz said. "They are not the worst oil company, but they hold themselves up to be a model corporate citizen, and they don't deserve it." Why then focus exclusively on Chevron? Focusing on one company makes the story more manageable, said Juhasz, exhibiting a clear understanding of modern campaigning techniques. And Chevron is everywhere, she noted, which allows activists to go to gas stations and distribute propaganda, or engage in publicity stunts that take advantage of the company's global profile.

"Our issues of peace, democracy, and environmental sustainability overlap with Chevron's actions around the globe," she said. "We want to take a closer look at the local impacts Chevron has globally in order to put pressure on them to be a better corporate citizen here, and everywhere else they operate. Our goal is to build a regional network not so much aimed at Chevron directly, but rather at policymakers who can adopt better regulations governing big oil."

While each of the activist organizations involved in this campaign has a different regional focus, they regularly hold conference calls and coordinate strategy to maximize impact. Their common theme is that the issues haunting Chevron in Richmond, Ecuador, Burma, Kazakhstan, and Nigeria are all really the same, and stem from a corporate culture that is out of sync with the values of the Bay Area.

Chevron repeatedly declined to comment on the charges leveled against it by activists. This should come as no surprise since outgoing CEO David O'Reilly suggested at the company's last shareholder meeting that the report pulled together by Global Exchange and various other groups should be thrown in the trash.

The company known as Chevron was once part of Standard Oil, which was started by the infamous Rockefeller family, and broken up under the Sherman Antitrust Act. Successor companies of Standard Oil — which once controlled 88 percent of US oil flows — comprised what were known as the "Seven Sisters" and included Exxon, Mobil, BP, Shell, Gulf, Mobil, and Standard Oil of California, which ultimately became Chevron. The sequential subsuming of Gulf (1985), Texaco (2001), and then Unocal (2005) allowed Chevron to become the world's second-largest oil company. Just 36 countries have a larger gross domestic product than Chevron. Based on annual revenues, it is California's largest and the world's fifth-largest corporation, with operations in 122 countries. Chevron was the second-most-profitable US corporation last year, edging out General Electric.

The campaign against the oil company can be seen within the context of a larger global examination of what Karin Lissakers, director of the Revenue Watch Institute, calls the "paradox of plenty." Lissakers and others describe this paradox as the persistent inability of resource-rich countries to transform their wealth in oil and other extractive industries into economic development that benefits their citizens.

The Revenue Watch Institute is hardly a left-leaning organization. Its prime constituency is the financial community, and it is one of many groups behind the so-called "publish what you pay" movement, which calls for greater transparency in where revenues from natural resources go when transferred from private to public hands. "We focus on the money flows, the revenue streams, and the distribution of those revenues in resource-rich countries," said Lissakers, whose institute is not directly involved in the anti-Chevron campaign. "What we campaign for are international good practices in all extractive industries. We should not have different standards for different countries."

Lissakers used Uganda to illustrate her point. Possible oil revenue in that central African nation represents $50 billion in total potential value, a large percentage of which could, if managed properly, provide immense economic opportunity in that impoverished country. "We want to make sure the state captures a significant part of that value. Our ultimate goal is to have access to country-by-country reporting in order to figure total revenues, value of products, and the percentage of this wealth flowing to governments."

In Lissakers' view, interestingly enough, mining companies are "way ahead of the curve" when it comes to such corporate social responsibility issues, while the oil sector — the most profitable of all natural resource businesses — is a clear and persistent laggard. But she believes big oil is going through an evolution in its thinking. "BP and Shell were instrumental in getting the transparency examination off the ground, but the response from US oil companies has been unenthusiastic from the very beginning," she said. And among US oil companies, Chevron's attitude makes it unique, critics say.

"When there is a problem, they send a lawyer instead of engineers," said Juhasz of Global Exchange. "They are dog-headed and would rather litigate than fix the problem."

This penchant for litigation is evident from the depths of the Amazonian jungle to Chevron's own backyard in nearby Richmond. Indeed, of the five refineries operating in the Bay Area, Chevron's Richmond facility is the worst polluter, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The company has yet to bring its vintage refinery, surrounded by immigrant residential communities, up to snuff on modern pollution controls and practices. Apparently, it would rather fight in court.

Yet the unprecedented coordination between its critics is a big test for both Chevron and the groups. If Chevron prevails, it may conclude that it can continue to conduct business as usual. But if the activists prevail, the entire industry might have to clean up its act — becoming part of the solution to not only climate change but the persistent poverty and human rights woes that plague much of the oil-producing world.

= = = = =

Across the globe, many of the very same issues that haunt Chevron in its global operations are everpresent at its century-old Richmond refinery.

In Richmond, the oil company's chief critic has long been Communities for a Better Environment, a grassroots group focused on industrial pollution issues impacting low-income communities of color. The group's key objective these days is to stop Chevron from processing dirtier crude such as Alberta tar sands at the Richmond refinery. Tar sands are one of the dirtiest forms of crude oil. Development contributes to clear-cutting of the Boreal Forest in Canada — the largest terrestrial carbon sink in the world — and emits three to five times as many greenhouse gas emissions as other more traditional forms of crude oil.

The company recently suffered a loss when the Contra Costa Superior Court ruled that Chevron's environmental impact report assessing proposed changes at the refinery was inadequate. At the moment, it is unclear how the company will respond. The ruling has halted construction activity necessary to process tar sands, stranding 1,100 union workers, pitting their jobs against the activists and local citizens worried about public health.

Another key environmental issue at Richmond is the burning of waste gases. While some refineries recycle these waste gases — reducing such flaring by 80 percent — Chevron has historically maintained that such practices were "not economically feasible" at the Richmond site. But Communities for a Better Environment has estimated that revenue generated by just seventeen minutes of Richmond refinery operations could fund the $100 million upgrades necessary to make the facility state-of-the-art when it comes to these gases.

Jessica Tovar, a local organizer for Communities for a Better Environment, pointed out that residents of Richmond's nearby Iron Triangle neighborhood suffer from asthma, cancer and other acute symptoms on a daily basis. "Chevron is not the only polluter, but their refinery is the largest [pollution source]," Tovar said, "and is one of the largest contributors to global warming in the San Francisco Bay Area." She noted that Chevron itself has described the boilers at the Richmond facility as "vintage," and Tovar added that the thirty- to fifty-year-old pipes are "more likely to create explosions than new ones." Since its environmental impact report was rejected, Chevron has "postponed indefinitely" all promised upgrades to the Richmond refinery complex. "The most important upgrades from a public safety perspective are now not going forward," she said.

Referring to the $100 million upgrade needed to halt the flaring of waste gases, Torm Nompraseurt, a senior organizer for Asian Pacific Environmental Network, said, "This system would serve the community for a long, long time. Our response to Chevron is that our lives are not that cheap — even if we are poor."

For Nompraseurt, the prime issue in Richmond is that Chevron is not following the law when it comes to disclosing its true plans through the environmental impact report process. "Chevron told its shareholders one thing, and they told the local community something else," he said. "For me, it is really about the principle that all projects need to go through the [environmental impact report] process, whether one is Chevron or a homeowner making a change to their own house. Under the California Environmental Quality Act, one has to disclose what the applicant is proposing to do. That's just the law."

While activists appear to be gaining ground in Richmond, immense challenges remain. The Asian Pacific Environmental Network, in particular, faces some unique organizing obstacles due to cultural factors. "Many Laotians do not believe that they can tell the government what to do," Nompraseurt added. "In fact, the majority of the 10,000 Laotians who reside in Richmond also have a fear of corporations. They think money and power equals corruption. They sense Chevron has had so much influence on the Richmond City Council, they don't think they can change anything."

= = = = =

While Richmond is a prime focus of Bay Area activists, controversies involving Chevron span the globe, from Angola, Chad, and Iraq to the Philippines. Ecuador is the hottest spot. There, Amazon Watch, a San Francisco-based organization dedicated to protecting the health and human rights of indigenous peoples in the Amazon River basin, has been embroiled with Chevron in a dispute over the oil company's liability for past operations that have had devastating consequences for indigenous peoples.

Chevron appears on the verge of being handed a judgment in Ecuador next year that could total as much as $27 billion. The ruling is a response to practices of its Texaco operations dating back to 1984, which Chevron assumed liability for during the 2001 merger.

Amazon Watch filed a lawsuit against operations then owned by Texaco in Ecuador in 1993, and first raised the issue of Chevron's potential liabilities in Ecuador when Chevron subsequently purchased the assets of Texaco. Amazon Watch maintains that pollution from oil operations in Ecuador "is one the largest environmental and social disasters on the planet," claiming that 18 billion gallons of toxic wastes have been dumped in an area the size of Rhode Island, threatening the livelihood of 30,000 indigenous peoples belonging to five different tribes. Critics claim Texaco employed primitive exploration and production practices in order to save $3.50 per barrel of oil sold to global markets. As a result, untreated wastes flowed directly into local waterways. Waste pits were simply covered over with soil, locations then re-inhabited by villagers.

Chevron points to its $40 million investment in cleanups in Ecuador as a good faith effort, but in reality, the potential for massive pollution problems in the future still exists. And while a deal with PetroEcuador, the nationalized oil company, allegedly left Chevron "off the hook" for future liability, this agreement did not, in the view of Amazon Watch lawyers, apply to the individuals still harmed by pollution.

Perhaps the biggest irony of Chevron's woes in Ecuador is that Chevron fought to move the trial from the United States to this South American country, where it has historically had a cozy relationship with the government. However, when left-leaning Rafael Correa Delgado was elected the new president of Ecuador in 2007, this strategy backfired. Chevron claims it will take this case about legacy issues it inherited from Texaco to some sort of unspecified international tribunal, but lawyers working on behalf of Amazon Watch say no such venue exists.

"It would have been a lot cheaper to settle back in 2001, when we were only asking for $1 billion to $3 billion," said Amazon Watch Executive Director Atossa Soltani. "They've lost face and an opportunity. They now look like they are out of step with today's values."

Indeed, the core message of the Amazon Watch campaign is that the handling of Ecuador represents a crisis in management. "What they did in Ecuador is indicative of deeply rooted symptoms of a company whose values are out of sync, especially here in the San Francisco Bay Area." She ridiculed the fact that Chevron points to its $40 million invested in cleanups in Ecuador as a sign of goodwill, when CEO David O'Reilly received a $50 million bonus in 2008 after the company boasted record profits of approximately $24 billion.

Juan Carlos Quiroz, a policy analyst and Ecuador specialist for the Revenue Watch Institute, expressed some sympathy for Chevron. "Chevron does make some valid points," Quiroz said, highlighting the difficulties foreign companies face when governments change hands rapidly and cultural factors beyond their control impact their image. Is it really Chevron's fault that large portions of the revenue it creates for host governments may be mismanaged, asked Quiroz.

"You have to understand that the government of Ecuador has been very unstable," he said. "The country has had ten presidents in twelve years." Consequently, Ecuador has lacked a coordinated plan for distributing revenues from oil operations. Regions that are the poorest are getting less revenue than regions that are better off, according to the Revenue Watch Institute's analysis.

= = = = =

Burma, also known as Myanmar, may be Chevron's biggest black eye. Here, the issue is not so much environmental impacts, but rather the ruthless killing and looting of nearby villages by armed forces funded by Chevron. The brutal military junta ruling the country is also siphoning off revenues from oil operations and, according to Earth Rights International, stashing it in banks in Singapore.

Earth Rights International, a small nonprofit organization that started up in 1994 focused on human rights abuses in Burma, is the prime mover behind the anti-Chevron work. Despite proposed legislation in Congress that would require Chevron to pull out of Burma, that is not the group's top priority. Rather, it argues that any new projects going forward in Burma should not rely upon the military as a police force. Such battalions are used to patrol pipeline regions, fostering a variety of human rights abuses, including forced labor, land grabs, and murder. Along with contributing to The True Cost of Chevron report, Earth Rights International has released a series of reports about how revenues from oil operations there are not trickling down to provide economic benefits to local citizens.

Chevron has purported to document the benefits of programs financed by oil companies in 25 Burmese villages since 2002. These reports claim that disease rates are down, while literacy rates are up. Abuses in villages located directly in pipeline corridors have also gone down, but these reports do not acknowledge that abuses in nearby villages have gone up, the organization claims. "Chevron and its partners need to acknowledge a corporate responsibility beyond the 25 villages that exist in pipeline corridors," said Paul Donowitz, Earth Rights International's point person for its Chevron campaign. Because Burma does not pay its military and soldiers are now banned from looting and raiding villagers residing in these pipeline corridors, Donowitz claims they are just expanding their search for food and other supplies in nearby areas.

In essence, Chevron argues that if it leaves Burma, Chinese oil companies will move in to fill the void, and then local villages will be worse off than they are now, which is quite possibly true. The oil business can be dirty indeed.

Beyond the torture and mayhem, the other atrocity in Burma is that the "paradox of plenty" is in full display. Earth Rights International claims it has evidence from confidential sources that $4.8 billion has been diverted from the country's national budget from the Yadana natural gas pipeline to the military regime and is sitting in two banks in Singapore, depriving local communities of virtually any economic benefits from oil operations while enduring violent acts of social injustice.

= = = = =

Kazakhstan is the largest private oil development area in the former Soviet Union. Chevron was the first private oil company to drill here in 1993 and is Kazakhstan's largest private producer. The company owns a 20 percent stake in the Karachaganack Field.

More than six years ago, the village of Berezovka, comprised of just 1,300 people and located within five kilometers of these expanding oil drilling operations, was promised to be moved to a "village of the 21st century." National and international laws require the relocation of any village that close to such oil exploration facilities.

The consortium of oil companies and government is rumored to be close to relocating Berezovka, according to Michelle Kinman with Crude Accountability, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization that is focused on environmental-justice issues near the Caspian Sea. "We are cautiously optimistic, since this action is predicated on national laws," Kinman said. In her view, the companies involved with consortium, including Chevron, do not want to set a precedent that raises expectations on future relocations too high.

Unfortunately, previous relocations have not been done well. The residents of one rural village, Tengiz, were all moved into a single urban high-rise building. Disputes over compensation of roughly $1,500 per household involved methods of counting what was and wasn't a "household." Crude Accountability claims that few of these villagers were given any training about how to live and work in an urban setting. The organization is working toward making the relocation of Berezovka a successful one, while simultaneously convincing the World Bank and other financial institutions to not fund oil and natural gas development that fosters pollution or human rights abuses throughout the Caspian Sea.

= = = = =

Nigeria may represent Chevron's toughest challenge yet. What happens in Nigeria could have major impacts on future operations in a continent destined to become the top oil producer for the United States in the coming decades. In fact, Africa already supplies the United States with more oil than the Middle East.

Nigeria's population of 150 million people makes it the most populous country in Africa. The country is torn by cultural and religious strife. The north is predominately Muslim and has traditionally dominated governing structures. The south is comprised primarily of poor Christian populations living near the oil reserves in the Niger Delta, a former fishing community. These southerners traditionally have not had much voice in governmental affairs.

Oil operations have decimated fish populations, interrupting the traditional way of life in the Niger Delta. Many villagers write long detailed letters to Chevron about the impacts oil operations have on their lives — but they never get a response. Chevron employees live in barricades so they have no interaction with the local population. As of late, villagers have become armed and steal oil — locals call it "bunkering" — and Chevron has begun to bribe armed rebels to allow oil to get to market, further entrenching a culture of corruption in Nigeria.

"Oil is so lucrative that a web of mysterious relationships between oil companies, the government, militants, and communities has evolved," said Laura Livoti, founder of Justice in Nigeria Now, and a longtime activist and radio reporter. Without her group, the issues surrounding oil and this troubled African country would never make the news and become part of the ongoing dialogue about how to reform Chevron and other oil companies operating there. The media tends to ignore what happens in this part of the world, but Livoti's group, with a staff of two, is determined to change that.

Earlier this year, for example, 20,000 villagers were displaced during a government-backed crackdown funded by Chevron. "No humanitarian aid was allowed, no journalists, no human-rights observers. Military rogues blew up facilities, which shut down the oil industry. Things got so bad, Chevron pulled out all non-essential employees," Livoti said.

It was this development that prompted the government to offer an amnesty program for militants this past May. While many balked, a large number have come forward to accept amnesty, except the militants most committed to political ideals as well as genuine solutions to local poverty.

The militants and ongoing corruption in Nigeria complicates things. "When the Nigerians were peaceful protestors, it was a lot easier to gain sympathy," acknowledged Livoti. "Now that an armed resistance as risen up in Nigeria, attracting sympathy — and financial support — is much more difficult," she said.

= = = = =

Despite the litany of woes facing Chevron around the world on the environmental and social fronts, even some renewable energy advocates come to its defense.

"Chevron is in the business of producing crude oil, which is what makes today's world economy run," said Al Rettenmaier, CEO of Integrated Energy Solutions, LLC, an Overland Park, Kansas-based firm committed to tapping the renewable energy potential of algae as well as other clean energy options. "It is a tough, competitive business and we are fortunate to have American oil companies as the leaders in this huge energy industry. We all want a different model, but the reality for today is that the world runs on oil. My personal experience with Chevron is that they are a forward-thinking, progressive American oil company. There is a great deal of concern in their company for the environment and safety. They are a company I would trust to do the right thing anywhere they operate in the world."

Chevron has turned its Chevron Energy Solutions into a $400 million-plus business developing solar photovoltaic and energy-efficiency projects, including a solar system for the Richmond Civic Center. But this level of funding is chump change compared with its total top and bottom-line numbers. The firm also failed to hire locally in Richmond when installing that system, despite the existence of the city's Solar Richmond program, which hires and trains local youth to create the green jobs President Obama has been touting as the answer to today's struggling economy.

Still, the firm is not without its green-tech supporters. "I have spent a considerable amount of time with the company and feel that while they are working in an inherently dirty business, and have a legacy of dubious environmental attention, they are committed to being an energy company well into the future," said Ian Thomson, a prime mover behind, a web site that focuses on green jobs in the Bay Area.

"The company is full of extremely bright people," Thomson added. "They know that 'cap and trade' and carbon regulations and other constraints will make alternatives increasingly competitive with their core business. But they know oil. Chevron feels they can compete with the other big oil companies by doing that what they've always been doing."

Although Chevron officials were not willing to discuss the company's checkered international record, Chevron's recently retired chief technology officer, Don Paul, was made available to discuss new energy technologies in an interview at Chevron's San Ramon headquarters, where security was as tight as at a military facility.

"Just when the world thinks it is running out of something, science and technology make something else work," Paul said, summing up the perspective of many oil industry veterans about the likely solution to the problems posed by climate change. From Paul's perspective, bio-fuels are a big part of our energy future as well as being a line of business not too dissimilar from oil and natural gas. "Crude oil is biomass that was processed through geologic time spanning million of years," he said. "With bio-fuels, we are just short-circuiting geologic time. In essence, what we are looking to do in bio-fuels is cut out that middle step."

Responding to criticisms about relying upon former food crops such as corn to serve as the prime feedstock for bio-fuels, Chevron has partnered with Weyerhaeuser to explore developing bio-fuels from timber and wood waste. "Our focus is how to develop the next generation of bio-fuel technologies and go after a large part of our current waste stream as sources for these cleaner fuels," Paul said. Noting that corn prices have risen due to the ethanol production boom in the Midwest, he expressed concern about trading off food for fuel. "Much of our corn has traditionally been given away as humanitarian contributions to poor developing nations. What happens to that program when corn is diverted to fuel?"

Given the size of its operations, he said Chevron takes a twenty-year view on emerging energy technologies. The firm has created partnerships with key agricultural schools at UC Davis, Texas A&M, and Georgia Tech. "Ultimately, we hope to tap true wastes such as sewage, trash, and waste grease to create bio-fuels," he said.

While Chevron is the largest producer of geothermal energy in the world, it does not see geothermal as a major energy source in California. Instead, Paul was much more bullish on solar energy. But instead of the solar photovoltaic arrays that have become so popular with residents and businesses alike, Chevron is instead exploring solar thermal technologies that concentrate solar energy to create steam. "We think it makes more sense to heat water with the sun to create steam instead of converting sunlight to electricity, where you lose two-thirds of the available energy in the conversion to electricity," he said. Chevron hopes to launch a large-scale, solar-thermal-concentrated power initiative in the near future, he promised. = = = = =

What if oil companies changed their ways and Chevron owned up to its responsibilities and began to devote larger and larger sums to renewable alternatives to oil and natural gas? Can these corporations be part of the solution or will they always be part of the problem?

The announcement that Chevron will soon have a new CEO, John Watson, is a sign, perhaps, that the company is seeking a new direction. "It's possible that this provides an opening for Chevron to do the right thing in the spirit of moving ahead and getting rid of old baggage," observed Becky Tarbotton, program director for the Rainforest Action Network, yet another non-governmental organization ganging up on the oil company. But Tarbotton isn't getting her hopes up. "From what we can tell, Watson isn't exactly a paragon of progressiveness," she said. "In fact, he was the architect of the merger between Texaco and Chevron. But you never know."

The involvement of the Rainforest Action Network, a pioneer in both boycotts and stakeholder engagement, signals that the anti-Chevron campaign is about to hit a new, even more intense phase. "This will be an on-line, off-line campaign of a scale and scope never seen before," Tarbotton promised. "We're bringing some firepower to the campaign in a full-scale attack on the Chevron brand. Our primary objective is to hold Chevron accountable in Ecuador. Our second goal is to get Chevron to establish a global environmental and human rights policy. We're not asking for the sky. We just want Chevron to do the basic things so they are no longer criminals."

Antonia Juhasz, the mastermind of the anti-Chevron campaign, sums up the core message of this unprecedented assault on a single oil company this way. "Chevron is one of the wealthiest corporations in the world," she said. "It should therefore be the cleanest, safest and most equitable company there is and should be deploying the safest technology. If you have to collaborate with some of the most brutal political regimes in the world to safeguard operations, you should probably not be doing business there. They should be limiting production to the least environmentally damaging methods and regions. Oil is an inherently destructive industry, but Chevron is clearly not a model of how to do it right."

Juhasz claims that every California citizen is now impacted by the political power of Chevron. "Chevron calls the shots for the business community at the state capitol in Sacramento, and it led the fight to kill a proposal to enact a severance oil tax — which most other states have — that would add $1 billion annually to state government's coffers," she said. "We don't have the funds to address health care, cleanups on our highways, and create new jobs because Chevron and its allies also fought efforts to close loopholes on corporate taxation at the federal level, too."

But for all its involvement at the state and local level, the future of Chevron's reputation may well be decided in a court in South America. The looming judgment in Ecuador will signal whether the power of the purse can prevail in today's jittery financial climate. A $27 billion hit to Chevron would certainly send a message to shareholders, as well as the rest of the oil industry. Whatever the outcome in Ecuador, the power of the people is being tested in novel ways, and the eventual outcome of the anti-Chevron campaign will likely have repercussions for years to come.

Peter Asmus is the author of Introduction to Energy in California (University of California Press, 2009). He has been covering the world of energy for more than twenty years.