Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Check the Weather Checks in on "Crude" and "Crude" Organizer Han Shan

Cross-posted: From Kari at

From Nigeria to Peru to Baton Rouge Louisiana, Big Oil is polluting the planet and the people. Recently, Shell gasoline settled with the Ogoni People of Nigeria for $15.5 million. The Ogoni people accused Shell of playing a role in the execution of Tribal leaders who were running a non-violent campaign to get Shell oil mines out of their village. In South America there is an on-going campaign to protect the Amazon rainforest from oil and natural resource extraction by big companies like Chevron. sat down with filmmaker and activist Han Shan to discuss his thoughts on the Ogoni Settlement and to catch a trailer from his new award winning documentary "Crude" by Joe Berlinger.

CRUDE - official trailer

CTW: What was your initial reaction about the settlement?

Han Shan: There was an initial shock, A little bit of dissapointment that Shell is not going to be on trial but as it sank in more I realize that this is a victory. We have been working on this for a very long time. For a true victory Shell needs to change it's way of doing business all together.

CTW: What does this settlement mean for others fighting dirty oil around the world?

Han Shan: There are skeptics but by and large shell paid 15.5 million for crimes they say they didn't commit. There is no gag order on the plaintiffs and the lawyers. They were able to get the word out through media to show the collusion with Shell and the Nigerian military. I hope it will be inspiring to continue their fight and use legal mechanism. This case also broadened the use of the alien tort statute since Brian Anderson- Head of Shell Nigeria during Ogoni Massacre was brought to trial. It is also a powerful opportunity to look into who Ken-Saro Wiwa was. There are so many facets to this case.

Ken Saro Wiwa's non-violent movement was successful in getting Shell out of Ogoni in 1993 there are still pipelines and illegal oil spills and even if they don't have oil fields in Ogoni they have a triple standard (Shell) the way they act in the Niger Delta, the way the act in poor areas of the US and then how they act in the Suburbs of Dallas, Texas. The way Shell acts in the Niger Delta is shameful.

CTW: What can people do to support?

Han Shan: Move towards a sustainable energy future. Until we end our addiction to oil we will always have violence. Conflict over resources is universal. We need a much more radical solution than what oil companies are willing to deal with. Oil companies are now taking away from investing in renewable energy and more into tar sands in Canada.

The best thing is to keep spreading the word of what the true price of Oil is. We need a real solution that is going to support indigenous groups. we need to revisit free trade because we as americans play a huge role in what's going on in Peru and around the world. In Peru- Conoco-Phillips is the leading holder of exploratory license in Peru.

CTW: Now that this case is settled what's next?

Han Shan: This is a crime that you are never going to end with police. How do you lock up corporations?

CTW: What would bold climate legislation mean to you

Han Shan: We need to change up the economic incentives. There is no incentive to investing into renewable energies. Groups are working on a report to showcase that Shell is one of the prime players in weakening the Waxman-Markey bill. It's more cost-effective for these groups to invest in tar sands than renewable energy technology.

We need a Manhattan Project for renewable energy. I'm dissapointed that Obama has not used those funds to really re-imagine our country like the Manhattan Project or Marshall Plan. With the kind of technology that we have I am shocked we are not doing more.

For more weather updates check out

Nick Magel is Communications Manager at Amazon Watch. Prior to joining Amazon Watch, Nick was Director of the Freedom From Oil campaign at Global Exchange. Nick’s critiques of the US oil addiction have run in The New York Times, USA Today, and San Francisco Chronicle. Previously, Nick had worked on campaigns to stop new liquefied natural gas infrastructure on the west coast and developed climate based curricula for classrooms across the country. He received his MA in education from Lesley University.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Watch: "Crude" Trailer Released

I recently was able to see "Crude" at one of it's many film festival premieres. No, I wasn’t privy to the showing at Sundance Film Festival, or the Boston Film Festival, but I did make it to the San Francisco International Film Festival premiere. I was anticipating seeing "Crude" as it gives an unfiltered view of Chevron’s $27 billion lawsuit in Ecuador and because on all the great reviews that preceded the showing.

"Eye opening. It’s also so well made that it shouldn’t have any trouble getting theatrical distribution." FoxNews

"A remarkable documentary...Gripping...Intrinsically cinematic...The most urgent film I’ve seen at Sundance this year." LA Weekly

"A gripping account of corporate malfeasance, striking a good balance between ecological elegy and real-life legal thriller." Time Out London

"Rarely have such conflicts been examined with the depth and power of Joe Berlinger’s documentary Crude. These real characters and events play out on the screen like a sprawling legal thriller." New York Times

Read more reviews here.

(Now this festival was a few months ago, but I wanted to talk about it now since the new trailer is out!) The house was packed, and by packed I mean sold out with activists, Chevron employees, community members, press, critics. People from all opinions came out to see the film that documents the consequences on Chevron’s operations in Ecuador. The audience was pretty indicative of the films tone, varied and broad. It’s no secret that this blog is one that tells the stories on the Ecuador communities living with Chevron’s toxic legacy, Chevrons media spin, lobby efforts, and overall slick dealings, however "Crude" is a bit different. It follows the trial and the plaintiffs lawyers, in also gives venue (over and over) to Chevron’s PR and law team. Granted, their arguments seem, how do I put this… false, incorrect, deflective, defensive, combative, (you get the picture) they are included over and over and seem to actually reinforce the idea that Chevron is now scrabbling after decades on pollution and procrastination. "Crude" lets the evidence be the most powerful voice in the film.

Regardless, the point of all this is to bring this story to a wider audience, and "Crude" does just that. We need to see these stories, and hear these voices. Our complacently in no way justifies Chevron’s toxic operations in Ecuador and around the world, but it does embolden them and help Chevron try to justify these operations.

Remember to go see "Crude" this fall!!

Premieres start: NYC Sep 9, LA Sep 18th, SF Sep 25 and DC Oct 23!

Click here to help spread the word about "Crude".

If you are interested in participating as an individual or organization in the Crude Engagement efforts please email

– Nick

Nick Magel is Communications Manager at Amazon Watch. Prior to joining Amazon Watch, Nick was Director of the Freedom From Oil campaign at Global Exchange. Nick’s critiques of the US oil addiction have run in The New York Times, USA Today, and San Francisco Chronicle. Previously, Nick had worked on campaigns to stop new liquefied natural gas infrastructure on the west coast and developed climate based curricula for classrooms across the country. He received his MA in education from Lesley University.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Chevron to Indigenous Communities: “We’re not going to pay, we’re going to fight this for years if not decades into the future”

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal Chevron made their most blatant claims yet to refusing to obey the rule of law in the nations that they operate. After a judicial campaign to influence decision makers to have the trial moved to Ecuador, Chevron is now claiming to being unfairly treated in Ecuadorian courts. These accusations, of course, only come as Chevron’s “crack team” of lawyers begin to preemptively resign to the fact that Chevron is going to be held to their $27 billion accountability in Ecuador.

When Chevron resorts to complaints of being “bullied” and “held hostage” you know they really are scraping the bottom of an oily barrel.

– Nick

Nick Magel is Communications Manager at Amazon Watch. Prior to joining Amazon Watch, Nick was Director of the Freedom From Oil campaign at Global Exchange. Nick’s critiques of the US oil addiction have run in The New York Times, USA Today, and San Francisco Chronicle. Previously, Nick had worked on campaigns to stop new liquefied natural gas infrastructure on the west coast and developed climate based curricula for classrooms across the country. He received his MA in education from Lesley University.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Truth No Chevron Public Relations Can Hide.

Chevron not happy about the media reporting the facts.

What will they think of next?! Chevron, everyone’s favorite forward-thinking (we know they do their best to forget the past) oil company, is opening up new fronts in public relations every day! Twittering, blogging, and... recruiting bloggers to write your propaganda for you? That certainly appears to be what Chevron’s up to. Take this side-by-side comparison of the recent press coverage devoted to the Ecuador case cited on Amazon Watch’s ChevronToxico site, versus the “In The News” sidebar on Chevron’s very own Ecuador-themed blog, The Amazon Post:

On, we find links to articles in the past 4 months from sources that include: Christian Science Monitor Associated Press and again New York Times and again Bloomberg San Francisco Chronicle National Public Radio 60 Minutes (CBS) The Washington Post The Wall Street Journal All of the above are news stories, by the way, which examine both sides of the ongoing dispute. They are not editorials or otherwise opinion pieces.

A few blogs, some opinion columnists, and hey, at least Chevron can take consolation in good press from the Wall Street Journal and Reuters, undoubtedly reputable news sources, right? Not so fast: An examination reveals that the WSJ and all four Reuters pieces are about Ecuador, but none contains a single mention of Chevron or the lawsuit against it!

On The Amazon Post? Here’s their underwhelming collection of “news” coverage: (Chevron paid this blogger to take a Chevron tour in Ecuador) Wall Street Journal (editorial) San Francisco Chronicle (opinion column) Bob McCarty Writes Zennie Abraham (Chevron-aligned blogger on The Oil Drum (Chevron also paid this blogger to take a Chevron tour in Ecuador) Miami Herald (opinion column, no longer exists) San Francisco Sentinel Fox And Hounds Daily

(troubling note: Recently The Amazon Post blog as been highlighting news regarding false accusations of Ecuador harboring terrorists. There is no reference to the Chevron lawsuit and it has absolutely nothing to do with the trial. Seems like a deeply disturbing attempt to deflect the real issues between Chevron and these Ecuadorian communities.)

What about the section of Chevron’s own corporate site devoted to Ecuador? A sparse “related articles” section appears to consist almost entirely of opinion pieces, mostly from business publications, or smaller newspapers with a well-known political slant. If you don’t live in D.C. you may not have heard of The Washington Times – I hadn’t – but that link provides a good illustration of the type of coverage Chevron is settling for.

A Vast Media Conspiracy?

So what on earth is going on here? The second-largest U.S. oil company, with a sophisticated multimillion-dollar P.R. machine, has to rely on biased bloggers to get its side of the Ecuador story heard by the general public?

Turns out Chevron didn’t just stumble into all this attention from the blogosphere either – it actually paid to bring several bloggers on a trip to Ecuador! This really raises the question: If Chevron’s going to spend that money, why not spend the money on giving a tour of the affected region in Ecuador, and Chevron’s account of the lawsuit, to high-profile, well-respected journalists? There’s certainly no shortage of them interested in covering what may be the largest environmental lawsuit in history.

One reason is that mainstream journalists have this pesky habit of actually talking to representatives of both sides. In the case of Ecuador, this would mean interviewing people like Donald Moncayo, Emergildo Criollo, or Manuel Salinas. People who would have talked about the family members who died of cancer after their drinking water was contaminated in the 1970s and 1980s – back when Texaco (now Chevron) was the only company operating oil wells in the area.

CBS’s 60 Minutes piece, which Chevron found so sorely unfriendly, in fact interviewed spokespeople from both sides extensively. The report clearly presented Chevron’s claims about the lawsuit – in fact, in much more depth than most print articles about the case have. But reporter Scott Pelley, doing his job as a journalist, also pressed Chevron attorney Silvia Garrigo to defend those claims, and she didn’t fare so well. Chevron can hardly cry “Media bias!” when its executives refuse to discuss the case, and the lower-ranking spokespeople it appoints pretty much discredit themselves.

I guess when your crimes are so obvious, so expansive, so profound, no amount of PR money can hide the truth.

– Daniel

Daniel Herriges has worked with Amazon Watch on the Clean Up Ecuador Campaign since 2008, as a Program Assistant. In his work Daniel has studied and written extensively on the history of the Chevron case in Ecuador. Daniel has a B.A. from Stanford University in Human Biology, with a focus in Conservation and Sustainable Development. He has conducted research in the Peruvian Amazon on ecotourism in indigenous communities.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Chevron Holds a Grudge, but the US Government Won’t Budge.

Every year, as if it’s tradition, Chevron lobbies the US Government to pull all of Ecuador’s trade preferences given to it by the United States. The preferences, called the Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA), are intended to help Ecuador boost its economy by granting duty-free access to the US market. Chevron has attacked the ATPA at least three times, so it's pretty apparent they are willing to throw an entire country under the bus to cover up it’s own crimes. If these trade benefits were to be revoked it would cost nearly 350,000 Ecuadorian jobs and threaten irreparable harm between Ecuador and US relations.

The US government, the Obama administration, and a number of Senators have wholly rejected Chevron’s pleas. Last week 4 US senators wrote a letter to the USTR urging the strong rejection of Chevron's requests.

The letter stated: “We write to express our concern with Chevron Corporation’s efforts to petition your office concerning a pending lawsuit it is facing in the Ecuadorian legal system. It is our understanding that Chevron is seeking the threatened withdrawal of the [trade benefits] for Ecuador if this lawsuit moves forward.” (Read the full version of the letter HERE)

Furthermore, on Tuesday the Obama administration upheld all of the ADPA commitments from the US and once again rejected Chevron’s desperate campaign to cut Ecuador out on the ATPA entirely.

Now, one might ask why Chevron, a multi-national behemoth of a corporation, would lobby heavily to yank this away from Ecuador? The answer is simple, Chevron doesn’t like the cards they have dealt themselves in Ecuador, and now they want to punish the entire country of Ecuador because they are not getting their way. Chevron would rather steamroll a nation than face the music for their criminal operations in Ecuador.

So why is Chevron so adamantly trying to screw Ecuador? They are a scared bully.

Chevron is facing a $27 billion lawsuit from Amazonian communities that continue to live with the toxic environment Texaco (Texaco was bought by Chevron in 2001) left after decades of oil operations on their lands. It is estimated that 8 billion barrels of waste-water and 3 million barrels of crude oil were dumped in the Ecuador rainforest. Communities along the Aguarico River and beyond continue to live with high cancer rates, birth defects, and chronic health problems attributed to contaminated water supplies due to Chevron’s toxic leftovers. Chevron is fighting tooth and nail to save themselves from being held accountable in the court of law to the spills and the nearly 1000 open pits they left behind for Amazon communities to deal with.

Chevron knows it has little chance of being acquitted of these allegations, and a verdict in the trial is expected later this year. In fact, Chevron hasn’t liked their chances of winning in this suit for a very long time as it tried for nearly a decade to keep the case from ever reaching a court. Finally, it was brought before a judge in New York, where in turn Chevron insisted (and won) that the trail be entirely removed from the US and set to take place in Lago Agrio, Ecuador.

This is where things get confusing.

Chevron demanded that the trial be moved to Ecuador, presumably because Chevron liked its chances to manipulate the courts down there better than in New York. They were sorely mistaken in this assumption when they were greeted by a court system that was determined to rule this case through a just lens rather than be bullied by an oil company that had left a national ecological treasure in disrepair.

So now, Chevron is throwing accusations of judicial corruption and vowing not to follow any ruling that is brought by the Ecuadorian courts. So if Chevron is NOT willing to follow the rule of law in Ecuador, does that show their intention to NOT follow the law in any country in which they operate?

Chevron’s lobby efforts to the USTR have been realized for what they are; a desperate and vindictive attempt to further cause economic harm to a country that is has already endured a legacy of environmental and social crimes left in the wake of Chevron’s operations.

– Nick

Nick Magel is Communications Manager at Amazon Watch. Prior to joining Amazon Watch, Nick was Director of the Freedom From Oil campaign at Global Exchange. Nick’s critiques of the US oil addiction have run in The New York Times, USA Today, and San Francisco Chronicle. Previously, Nick had worked on campaigns to stop new liquefied natural gas infrastructure on the west coast and developed climate based curricula for classrooms across the country. He received his MA in education from Lesley University.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Part III: Crude Cover Up

A continuing series of posts from inside Chevron’s former oil concession in Ecuador ground zero of the landmark Aguinda v. Chevron lawsuit.

After bearing witness to the gusher that irreversibly changed the future of Ecuador, its rainforests and its inhabitants, we continue on the toxic trail of Chevron’s legacy and arrive at Lago Agrio #2. We pull into the clearing around the now defunct well. Seems innocent enough. No machinery, no drilling platform, no rig. We get out of the car and walk about 100 meters into some of the degraded surrounding forest. Our guide from the Frente pulls out an auger, and leads us to an area of relative clearing in what is normally dense tropical rainforest. There is visible grass and small plants, but he tells us that here is where the oil is.

Hard to believe, but he starts digging down using the auger and within seconds, he pulls up a mix of red clay soil bespectacled with shiny black flecks. We lean in to take a closer look and get a big whiff of what smells distinctly like high-octane gasoline. It’s actually a fairly familiar smell to me, being one who always tries to cram an extra 1/4 gallon into his tank and ends up with fingers and flip flops that reek for a week. We dig down a little deeper, and can hear the sloshing sounds of water and mud. The auger comes up almost entirely black. This time we needn’t lean in, for the fumes are nauseating from several feet away. But we do anyway, and the burn is felt up through my nasal passage, stinging the sinuses, and probably taking a few brain cells with it too.

It starts to make sense why there’s nothing with deep roots growing around here—because it wouldn’t live long soaking up this toxic ‘Texas Tea’. This is one of Chevron’s “remediated” sites, and a cursory glance from afar might lead one to think that everything is fine here-- a deceptive and deadly mistake if you happen to put your water well next to one of these “clean” pits.

These pits are in essence the crux of the lawsuit. As I talked about in my first post, Texaco (now Chevron) designed, built, and operated a cheap and contaminating system of oil production—in the middle of one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, where local people live and die by the quality of available fresh water. Instead of re-injecting the toxic brew of drilling muds, chemical cleaning solvents, produced waters, and leftover crude, Texaco dumped this waste into unlined pits. Each well (Texaco built over 300) usually had about 3 pits, and they were “strategically” placed to drain into nearby streams. The pits had no reinforcement, and would often breach or overflow with heavy rains (as are common in the rainforest).

And suddenly, standing in the middle of the rainforest, I start to get a sinking, Silent Spring feeling, knowing that despite the sounds of insects and birds above, below us lurked a toxic sludge that had been leeching into underground aquifers for decades. And this was a pit allegedly cleaned up by Texaco. If this was “clean”, I’d hate to see one in its original state. When the Aguinda v. Texaco case was first filed in New York courts in 1993, the company’s concession was an environmental disaster zone. Texaco left behind some 900 of these abandoned waste pits. According to experts, each one of these pits would be a Superfund site in the U.S. Realizing the company faced real possible exposure and responsibility for this disaster in the eyes of the court, Texaco orchestrated a $40 million “clean up.”

But, as we’re seeing at Lago Agrio #2, this doesn’t look anything like a clean up. Turns out, Texaco only carried out a “clean up” at 16% of the approximately 916 pits, and didn’t lift a finger at the other 84% of them. In other words, Texaco “cleaned up” 146, and left 769. Even worse, is that those 146 pits aren’t really clean. According to samples taken by the independent, court appointed expert at 54 sites claimed to be remediated by Texaco, 45 have illegal levels of Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons (TPHs). A Lago #2, TPH levels were 4,777 ppm (parts per million), or 4.7 times over the legal limit in Ecuador, and much higher than the 100 ppm threshold in many U.S. states. One “remediated” pit has TPH levels at 206,512 ppm, or 206 times the legal limit.

So what happened? Local people say that Texaco merely pushed dirt over the pits. What is clear is that contaminated soils were never removed. Texaco likes to say it used an EPA test to certify that the pits had truly been cleaned. However, they used the wrong test to rig the results in their favor. Chevron now hides behind this junk science and claims the pits are clean. Tragically (or criminally), this has meant that campesinos have built houses above the pits believing the pits were clean, only to find crude oozing from the soil underneath their homes, or their groundwater wells reeking of petroleum. And here’s another catch---how do you conduct a clean up when there isn’t a complete inventory of all the contaminated sites you left? The recent 60 Minutes expose on the case reveals that, by the company’s own admission, it “never kept a master inventory list” of all toxic sites. During judicial inspections of the site and those visits carried out by the court appointed expert, it became clear that there are pits which were dug, abandoned and never inventoried by Texaco. Satellite images from Ecuador’s Military Geographic Institute reveal hidden pits, which can been clearly seen as dark stains on the canopy floor.

So Texaco’s crude clean up sought to clean up only a fraction of the waste that was left, and even that was ineffective at best. If this is the trial of the century, then the Texaco “clean up” was the environmental fraud of the century.

In our next post from the trial over Chevron’s toxic legacy, we speak to local affected indigenous communities and campesinos, and visit one of the 769 pits abandoned by Texaco.

– Kevin

Kevin Koenig is Amazon Watch's Northern Amazon Program Coordinator. Kevin lives and works Ecuador and has spent extensive time on the ground with affected communities and partner NGOs. Prior to joining Amazon Watch, Kevin worked as the Ecuador researcher/organizer with the Rainforest Action Network as part of the Beyond Oil Campaign. At that time, he lived and worked in Ecuador for nearly four years, collaborating with indigenous and environmental NGOs on oil and gas issues.