Sunday, August 30, 2009

LA Times Editorial Part 2 - "Chevron, Ecuador and a Clash of Cultures"

(This is part two of a two piece editorial from the LA Times on the Chevron Ecuador Case. Some of the best and profound writing I've read on ChevronTexaco's mentality towards indigenous communities they have operated in.) From LA Times Aug 29 2009

Intertwined with the lawsuit are the indignities suffered by Ecuador's native peoples.

The facts of Aguinda vs. Texaco Inc. haven't changed since the lawsuit was first filed in 1993, but the world has. Climate change and environmental stewardship have become international concerns. The dignity of native populations around the world has been recognized in a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by the United Nations. And after 16 years of litigation in the United States and, now, Ecuador, the lawsuit against Chevron Corp. has become a cause celebre among human rights activists and environmentalists. Last year, the plaintiffs' lead attorney and a community organizer on the case won the Goldman Environmental Prize, the world's leading environmental award.

As the world has changed, so has Ecuador. When Texaco began drilling in Ecuador's Amazon rain forest, the country was run by a military dictatorship, and American oilmen were at the top of the power structure and social order. As recently as 2006, attorneys for Chevron -- which inherited the case in a merger with Texaco -- would arrive for court business in Lago Agrio escorted by uniformed army soldiers. Plaintiffs' attorneys were unaccompanied.

At the very bottom of society were Indians. In the caste system that had endured in Ecuador since the Spanish conquest, those of European extraction and their foreign allies dominated the nation's affairs, and it was the ruling class in the capital of Quito that grew wealthy from the oil discovered in the Indians' homelands. About $25 billion worth was extracted by the consortium that included Texaco, and Chevron officials claim that 95% of the revenue, or $24.5 billion after taxes and royalties, went to the government. Yet the region that was the source of the nation's wealth remained its most impoverished. If the rain forest was ravaged and the people harmed, it was with the consent of their own government.

The country began to change in the 1990s, however, and its socialist evolution was made manifest with the 2006 election of Rafael Correa, a U.S.-educated economist who speaks French, English and Quechua, an indigenous tongue. He has called the devastation of the Amazon a "crime against humanity" and clearly supports the plaintiffs in the case against Chevron.

Among many changes made under Correa's administration, Ecuador has extended greater respect and protections for indigenous cultures and has given Pachamama -- Mother Earth -- legal standing. Last year, voters approved a new constitution that grants nature the right to "exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution."

There is no legal equivalent in the world. And though the new constitution does not apply retroactively to the lawsuit, the assumptions behind it reveal the depth of the culture clash between San Ramon-based Chevron and the people suing it. Five indigenous tribes and 80 communities -- about 30,000 inhabitants of the Amazon -- allege that Texaco polluted their land and their only sources of water, resulting in chronic and even fatal illnesses.

Reeling from a court-appointed expert's findings of soil and water contamination and his determination that damages could soar to $27 billion, Chevron has launched a vigorous public relations campaign, averring that it is pitted against an interfering socialist government and not impoverished locals. The company has tried to its limit public discussion of the trial to the specific sites that Texaco remediated under an agreement with the government, while the plaintiffs insist on discussing the entire concession area and the personal suffering of its inhabitants.

Yet if Chevron maintains that the playing field has tilted to the left, the plaintiffs see it as finally level. They have waged an equally vigorous campaign, perfecting a "toxic tour" and guiding international observers, environmental activists and journalists -- including a member of The Times' editorial board -- to contaminated sites.

The shadow case

The main issues in the suit are matters of dueling science. But the trial's location in the Amazon provides a context and backdrop that would have figured less prominently had the case been tried elsewhere. Still seething in the jungle is an enduring resentment of what many residents say was Texaco's paternalism and arrogance, a sense of imperialist exploitation no less offensive because it was the work of a corporation rather than a government.

Indians still living in the rain forest recount the casual crimes of the American oilmen, with their abundance of swagger and contempt for local culture. From house to house, town to town and tribe to tribe, it is the same: The oilmen mocked and shamed them and raped more than just their lands.

"Before Texaco came, the women did not have children who were half-white," said a Secoya woman. "But what could they do? The women were given no choice."

Tribal elders recall how Texaco's pilots would swoop down on them in their helicopters. Sometimes, the elders say, they would carry off Indian women or, apparently for the fun of it, fly men and boys deep into the jungle and strand them miles from home without food or water.

Those allegations are, in one sense, tangential to the lawsuit. But some accounts of wrongdoing have spilled from the margins of the case intothe litigation itself. The assessment of damages by the court-appointed expert, for instance, cites tales of rapes and miscarriages, which could influence the size of any judgment against the company.

"This notion that accusations can be made without any sort of substance behind them and that they stick is extremely worrisome," Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson said in an interview with The Times.

This shadow case has been particularly difficult to counter. When Chevron is accused of assaults and rapes and even cultural genocide, how, exactly, is it supposed to respond? In accordance with U.S. mores and procedures, it wants documentation -- police reports, doctors' examinations -- not oral histories corroborated solely by friends and family.

"Do I think murders were committed back in that region in the 1970s? Perhaps -- it's plausible," said James Craig, another Chevron spokesman. "But where are the evidence and the witnesses? Where were the police? If you're going to make these types of accusations, you should back them up with something. I wasn't in Ecuador in the 1970s to say yes it happened or didn't happen. But if a criminal act occurs in an area, is that an indication that this is the company's practice? Or is it just a criminal act that would occur?"

To Chevron's frustration, many in Ecuador draw no such distinction. They consider the crimes of that era to be the responsibility of the oil company that occupied their land, and they haven't forgotten.

Awaiting the verdict

However the case is resolved, an environmental victory is impossible. No amount of money will restore the rain forest to its natural state, and the foundation of an ancient culture has all but vanished.

Indians still living on the banks of the Aguarico, the Richwater, recall the old way of hunting: A shaman would enter a dream state, then he would ask the animals to sacrifice themselves for the tribe. The animals never refused. In the Ecuadorean Amazon, that way of life endured for 500 years, withstanding conquests by the Incas, Spanish colonizers and American missionaries. Then Texaco arrived, and oil extraction did what centuries of outside intrusion could not.

Secoya Indians living in the village of San Pablo remember the day the river ran black. Old men tell of oil rushing down the waters, engulfing everything in its path and staining the banks. Then came the dead fish, floating on the surface. The people, however, continued to eat the fish, bathe in the water and use it for their cooking. They didn't know any better.

Now they do. A generation of Indians has experienced a constant struggle with sickness and hunger their forefathers never could have imagined. With their forests and rivers depleted, a handful of indigenous communities struggle simply to survive. Instead of fish and game, meals now are more likely to consist of potatoes, rice and canned sardines bought at stores hours away from their villages. That devastation, more than soil samples and toxicity reports, animates the historic lawsuit now nearing its conclusion.

When the verdict is issued in Lago Agrio, it will prompt a round of appeals and other legal procedures, possibly in Ecuador and certainly in the United States, where Chevron has assets. The plaintiffs promise they will never give up. The company has assured investors that it will never pay. And the Amazon and its people will remain unhealed.

This is the second of two editorials on the case of Aguinda vs. Texaco Inc. Both are available at

– Nick

Your bio goes in here...

Friday, August 28, 2009

LA Times Editorial Part 1 - "Oil, Ecuador and Its People"

From LA Times Aug 28 2009

Today, a swath of the Ecuadorean Amazon remains contaminated beyond imagining. Neither side disputes the devastation, only who should pay for it. Chevron says it is the state oil company's responsibility.

In a small, spare courtroom in the Amazon region of Ecuador, Chevron Corp., California's largest company and one of the world's largest oil producers, will soon face a day of reckoning. After 16 years of litigation, a case the company inherited in a merger, Aguinda vs. Texaco Inc., is nearing an end. The legal battle that began in the United States in 1993 and resumed in Ecuador in 2003 has pitted the multinational against an unlikely adversary, a coalition of indigenous tribes and communities. A verdict is expected early next year. The plaintiffs are poised to prevail, and Chevron acknowledges that it is likely to lose.

The case is historic by several measures. Never before have indigenous peoples brought a multinational oil corporation to trial in their own country. Moreover, a victory would mark a turning point in the relations between native populations around the world and the foreign corporations that do business in their homelands. And the potential damages are staggering: A court-appointed expert has determined that they could run to $27 billion, almost 10 times that initially awarded to plaintiffs after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Today, a swath of the Ecuadorean Amazon the size of Rhode Island remains contaminated beyond imagining. At one site after another, oil hangs in the air, slides on the water's surface and saturates the land. Pipelines and waste pits left behind years ago still drip and ooze. Advocates for the plaintiffs have called the former Texaco concession area the "Amazon Chernobyl."Were it in the United States, it would easily qualify as a Superfund site. Neither side in the case disputes the devastation, only who should pay for it. Chevron says it is the state-owned oil company's responsibility; the plaintiffs say it is Chevron's.

The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages for environmental cleanup, reforestation and healthcare. (Under Ecuador's legal system, they cannot receive individual compensation.) In addition to reams of documents and hundreds of soil and water samples, the case has generated abundant ill will. Chevron maintains that it's the victim of a scheme to plunder its deep pockets and make it pay for pollution caused by Petroecuador, the state oil company, which took over after Texaco's operations ended. The plaintiffs contend that the pollution was caused by the faulty infrastructure Petroecuador inherited from Texaco; as with a faulty car, to use their analogy, it is the manufacturer, not the driver, who is to blame. Entire communities, they say, have been plagued with devastating illnesses as a result of oil waste in their drinking and bathing water, and their suffering has fallen on deaf corporate ears. Their resentment runs as deep as the oil Texaco once drilled.

Assessing the damage

Texaco Petroleum and Ecuadorean Gulf Oil Co. began exploring for oil in the Ecuadorean Amazon in 1964, found it three years later and, from 1972 to 1992, produced 1.7 billion barrels of crude. Texaco held a 37.5% interest in the consortium, but it designed and constructed the wells, pipelines and waste pits, and it was the sole operator of the 1,700-square-mile concession area.

In 1992, after the government did not renew its contract, Texaco turned over its infrastructure to Petroecuador and left the country. One year later, five indigenous tribes and 80 communities filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court in New York, then Texaco's headquarters. The suit alleged that Texaco discharged more than 18 billion gallons of waste water into rivers and streams, burned millions of cubic meters of natural gas without proper emissions controls and spilled millions of gallons of crude oil directly into the earth, polluting the region's only sources of water, sickening inhabitants and even contributing to the extinction of one small tribe, the Tetete.

In a report submitted last year, the court- appointed expert, geologist Richard Cabrera, estimated that 1,400 people in the region had died of cancer caused by toxic chemicals involved in oil extraction. That calculation accounts for $2.9 billion of the damages assessment. Chevron contends that Cabrera is not qualified to make such a determination and that neither science nor medicine supports his assertion; he has not presented the medical records of any victims. As for remediation, the company says Texaco already did that.

Chevron disputes the scientific methods used to determine its culpability, but the heart of its defense is its assertion that the case never should have been permitted to go forward. The company maintains that it is the victim of the retroactive application of environmental laws that did not apply when Texaco was operating the concession area, and that Texaco fulfilled its clean-up obligations.

After the suit was filed in New York, Texaco entered into a remediation agreement with the Ecuadorean government. As part of that agreement, the company spent about $40 million cleaning up oil field waste pits and funding socioeconomic projects in local communities. In 1998, after years of government oversight and periodic approvals, the Ministry of Energy and Mines and Petroecuador certified that Texaco's remediation met the country's standards, and the government issued a waiver releasing the company from further liability. Chevron, which merged with Texaco in 2001, maintains that the waiver not only immunized it against any action by the government but obviated all other claims. Yet the waiver says nothing about third parties. It releases Texaco "forever, from any liability and claims by the Government of the Republic of Ecuador, Petroecuador and its Affiliates."

More than legal interpretation is at issue. Cabrera concluded that soil samples even from areas Texaco said it remediated are contaminated, which prompted the government to take action against the company as well. Declaring the original remediation a fraud, it indicted two Chevron officials and seven former government officials. And just recently, the court agreed to turn over Cabrera's damages assessment to the office of the federal prosecutor. As a result, Chevron is battling not just the plaintiffs but Ecuador itself. It has tried to pressure the government to assume responsibility for remediations by urging the United States to revoke the country's preferential trade status. So far, that effort has failed.

In Lago Agrio

Such tactics represent a remarkable break in a long relationship between American oil companies and the Ecuadorean government. Indeed, so comfortable was Texaco with the country's government and judicial system that soon after the lawsuit was filed in New York, it argued to move the case to Ecuador. In support of that motion, it filed affidavits attesting to the transparency and fairness of the Ecuadorean court system, pleadings it would come to regret.

At the time, moving the trial was the last thing the plaintiffs wanted. Historical collusion between government officials and oil executives, coupled with the racism and discrimination faced by indigenous peoples in their homeland, made a fair trial inconceivable, they argued. Plaintiffs' advocates likened it to African Americans in the pre-civil rights South obtaining justice from a court in, say, Mississippi -- not impossible, but unlikely. The New York judge sided with Chevron and agreed to dismiss the case as long as the company promised to abide by the Ecuadorean judge's verdict. Chevron promised it would, and in 2003 the fight started over again in a jungle-adjacent courtroom in Lago Agrio.

There, in the grimy oil town named after Texaco's birthplace in Sour Lake, Texas, the two sides await a verdict in a case with echoes and implications around the world. From Nigeria to Peru, native peoples are challenging with new force the destructive legacies of multinationals. In that, Aguinda vs. Texaco is a legal landmark -- one we hope, whatever its outcome, will enable multinational corporations to better navigate the changing world in which they do business and thus encourage a new era of corporate responsibility.

For its part, Chevron has ample reason to be anxious. The company succeeded in having the trial moved to Ecuador, where American oil companies once held great sway. But the country's politics, environmental ethos and regard for its native peoples were about to evolve in dramatic, unforeseen ways. The new Ecuador has turned out to be a far less hospitable place for Chevron than the old Ecuador had been for Texaco.

– Nick

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ecuadorean lawyer battles Big Oil

The award-winning activist has been working for years on a class-action lawsuit against ChevronTexaco

from The Resister-Guard 8/27/09

Pablo Fajardo found his calling at age 15. That’s when the Ecuadorean teen moved with his family to a poor community in the northern Amazon region that was the site of a Texaco oil plant. “Whatever step you took, walking around the jungle, you would actually get soiled with oil,” Fajardo said Wednesday at the University of Oregon School of Law. Troubled by the impact of oil industry contamination on his Lago Agrio region, Fajardo at 18 led a local group seeking cleanup and reparations. He became an attorney and at 35 assumed the role of lead counsel in a David vs. Goliath lawsuit against Chevron, which acquired Texaco in 2001. Last year, Fajardo won the U.S.-based Goldman Prize for serving as the public voice for 30,000 Ecuadoreans who filed a class-action lawsuit against Texaco in 1994. According to their claim, still alive in the Ecuadorean courts after its 2003 removal from a New York U.S. District Court, Texaco dumped nearly 17 million gallons of crude oil and 20 billion gallons of drilling wastewater directly into the Ecuadorean Amazon. The claim says area residents, among the poorest people in Ecuador, have suffered disproportionate rates of miscarriages, leukemia and other cancers resulting from oil-related soil and water contamination.

Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson on Wednesday disputed that claim, saying Fajardo’s group has never documented higher-than-average health problems or hard evidence linking such problems to Texaco’s operations there. Further, Robertson said, Texaco collaborated with PetroEcuador, Ecuador’s state-run petroleum industry, to extract oil from the region, with the U.S.-based corporation a 37 percent partner in the venture. After ceasing its operations in 1990, the company spent $40 million remediating its share of the environmental damage to the satisfaction of the Ecuadorean government, he said. Fajardo’s group “wants Chevron to pay to clean up PetroEcuador’s mess,” Robertson said. According to the Goldman Environmental Fund, an independent investigator appointed by an Ecuadorean judge concluded that oil operations caused $8.3 billion to $16 billion in area environmental damage. Fajardo on Wednesday presented a video showing how polluted water and toxic sludge has left subsistence farmers unable to grow crops. One clip showed a farmer chopping into the earth with a hoe and turning up what looked like thick, rubbery asphalt. Eugene lawyer Bern Johnson, executive director of the Eugene-based Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide, introduced Fajardo as a voice for “the kind of communities that have paid a very high price for the industrialized world’s addiction to oil.” Fajardo, at the UO this summer on a 10-week fellowship to study English, said the 15-year-old lawsuit has been frustrating. “Legal systems are very imperfect and usually tend to favor those in power,” he said. “For me, it’s ludicrous that we spent nine years in the New York Circuit Court just arguing whether that was the correct place to be holding the proceedings.” He also challenged the “hard science” proof of harm standard. “They look at individual cases of cancer and say it can not be traced back to the oil that was spilled by Chevron,” he said. “It’s true that the exact correlation cannot be proved. But hard science is inhuman, because the principle of precaution should rule in this case. This is to say that populations should not be exposed if the risk has not been proved harmless to the population.” He lamented what he called Chevron’s unjust “double standard” of laxer environmental restrictions in places such as Ecuador as opposed to operations in the United States. But he pledged to continue the suit, urging sympathetic Oregon residents to educate themselves on the topic. “We are quite firm that we are going to carry on,” he said. “One of the many things we’ve learned … is that these battles need much more collective actions, for people from the north and the south to come together in the fight. Environmental problems do not really have borders; therefore, the solutions to them should not have borders.”

– 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.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Chevron Gets No Love From Andy Rooney

Chevron’s Ecuador problem forces Andy Rooney to drop the H-bomb… something he really, really, hates to do.

We love Andy Rooney and he gets mad at a lot of things (like iphones or Ali G). But now he turns his anger at sleazy lawyers, sleazy journalists, and one of the world’s sleaziest corporations.

In May’s 60 Minutes segment “Amazon Crude”, Scott Pelley explored Chevron Texaco’s past operations in Ecuador and the toxic remains left behind. We were all outraged as footage ran of oozing oil pits left by Chevron, children swimming in Chevron’s polluted rivers, and families dealing with health problems – from cancers to miscarriages – caused by Chevron’s dirty operations. This is the reality faced by Amazonian communities in Ecuador that live in the wake of Chevron’s human rights catastrophe, a reality that Chevron disputes and refuses to account for.

Andy Rooney doesn’t like that....

In fact, Andy Rooney hates what Chevron is doing – leaving 18 billion gallons of wastewater and 17 million gallons of crude oil to pollute Amazonian communities, and then trying to pretend that nothing ever happened.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. When Andy Rooney was young… kids played in the streets, you knew your neighbors, Mom baked hot, fresh pies while Dad and Jimmy tossed a baseball in the yard… and corporations like Chevron owned up to their mistakes.

You can turn back the clock to a happier time, and turn Rooney’s hate into love, by learning more about the lawsuit that has Andy and millions of other people enraged.

Spread the new Animation, the 60 Minutes segment, and the new movie “Crude” to your friends!

– Nick


Coming to theaters: the film Chevron doesn't want the world to see.

Three weeks from today, a powerful new documentary film called CRUDE is opening in New York. It premiered at Sundance and has played at (and won awards at) numerous film festivals around the world. But now it's coming to theaters across the country, beginning with the Big Apple.

Three years in the making by acclaimed filmmaker Joe Berlinger (Brother's Keeper, Paradise Lost, and Metallica: Some Kind of Monster), CRUDE chronicles the epic battle to hold oil giant Chevron accountable for its systematic contamination of the Ecuadorian Amazon – an environmental tragedy experts call the “Amazon Chernobyl,” and believe is the worst case of oil-related contamination on Earth.

Centering on a landmark lawsuit filed by the indigenous people and campesinos who continue to suffer a severe public health crisis caused by Chevron's contamination, CRUDE is a high-stakes David vs. Goliath legal drama with 30,000 Amazon rainforest dwellers facing down the 5th largest corporation in the world.

Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign – featured in the film – is leading grassroots efforts to promote the theatrical release, enlisting human rights and environmental allies across the U.S. in an outreach and word-of-mouth marketing campaign. Numerous organizations have pledged support and committed to concrete efforts to build the profile of this must-see film, including Rainforest Action Network, Oxfam USA, WITNESS, EarthRights International, Human Rights Watch, and Global Green, to name just a few.

CRUDE is not a simplistic piece of agit-prop. Filmmaker Joe Berlinger shows all sides of this monumental case and the stories and people behind it. Chevron is given plenty of opportunity to share its perspective. Unfortunately for them, in the end, truth does appear to pick a side and it's not Chevron's.

Ultimately, the film gives us a glimpse of the beauty and mystery of the Amazon and its indigenous cultures, and puts a human face on the devastation left there by three decades of oil operations. But it does a lot more. Among other things, it also tells the story of what it takes to go up against one of the most powerful companies on the planet.

Watch the trailer below:

Especially inspiring is the story of Pablo Fajardo, the young former oil field worker who completed his law degree by correspondence course and is now the lead attorney for the plaintiffs. Pablo argues passionately and courageously for the impacted communities, and you won't be able to help cheering him on.

Advising Pablo is another lawyer named Steven Donziger, who helped file the original lawsuit in New York back in 1993. Coming across as somehow both cynical and idealistic, he is brash and and big and loud and manipulative. And if you're rooting for the plaintiffs, you'll find yourself thinking "I'm glad he's on our side."

And there are a slew of other fascinating real-life characters, from a Chevron attorney who comes across like the Tilda Swinton character from Michael Clayton (how does she sleep at night?) to Trudie Styler – wife of Sting and founder with him of the Rainforest Foundation – who visits the affected communities and decides to get involved.

It's easy to get behind CRUDE because it not only tells an important story. It tells it in an inspiring, powerful, engaging, and dare I say it, extremely entertaining way. Joe Berlinger had a hit with his last film about Metallica going through group therapy. He brings the same storytelling acumen to this story that already had dramatic elements galore.

The theatrical release of CRUDE comes at a moment of unprecedented importance in the campaign to hold Chevron accountable and achieve justice for the people of the Ecuadorian Amazon. What's more, a victory for this grassroots campaign will send shockwaves through the oil industry and corporate boardrooms around the world, forever changing the way companies do business.

With CRUDE coming out in theaters, we have an unprecedented opportunity to massively increase public awareness of this issue and massively increase public pressure for Chevron to be held accountable. But it begins with getting people out to the movies!

The film opens in New York on 09/09/09, followed by runs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and thirty more smaller cities across the country [full list]. This sounds great but think of it compared to G.I. Joe, which was playing in 4,000 theaters at the same time last week! Theaters nationwide will be watching to see how the film performs in the first few weeks to decide whether to screen it themselves so please, help us spread the word!

Blog about CRUDE, post the trailer and poster and web banners on your social networks, follow and retweet @crudethemovie & @amazonwatch, become a fan of the film on Facebook, and join our mailing list for news, updates, and action alerts.

Visit for resources to help you promote CRUDE and get involved with the Clean Up Ecuador Campaign. Join us now so you can join us for the campaign's victory party in the near future!

– Han

PS the official film website is at: Check it out for the film's press kit, and to sign up for updates from the filmmaker.

Han Shan is a New York-based human rights and environmental justice campaigner. He is currently serving as a coordinator of the Clean Up Ecuador campaign for Amazon Watch. Han served as the WTO Action Coordinator for the Ruckus Society in the lead-up to the historic 1999 demonstrations against the WTO in Seattle, and then served as Program Director, training thousands of grassroots activists in effective nonviolent action. The Washington Post called Han "one of the most visible figures of the protests against the WTO, World Bank and IMF." Han has also played a leadership role in the Tibetan freedom movement for over ten years, and is a producer for the independent production company Rikshaw Films, creating award-winning documentary films and issue-driven content for television and the web.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Chevron Hires Axis of… PR Spin

Chevron Hires Another Wave of PR Firms Chevron continues to pull out all the stops in its effort to evade the inevitable justice that will be brought to its boardroom from Ecuador. To try to distort truths and spin reality, Chevron has recently brought on 3 new public relations firms. (I’m personally curious how much Chevron has spent on its PR, lobby, and ad campaigns, versus its renewable energy projects. Let us know.)

I was curious as to who these 3 firms were after reading this press release. I decided to poke around their websites and was not surprised to find a defensive and evasive tone to the descriptions of their services. Take a look below…

EdelmanThe mission of Edelman’s Consumer Brands practice is twofold: To help clients navigate their way through an ever-evolving communications environment where the rules of engagement are changing and consumers are relying more on the opinions of “people like themselves” rather than the more traditional and hierarchical sources of information and authority (such as media, government, corporation and industry experts); and to help them achieve better business/marketing goals through our unique brand of communications.”

This reads like a war room briefing. “The rules of engagement?” Really? It sounds like an engagement strategy doomed to fail. If Chevron’s intention is to transform its image into one that aligns itself with my own opinion they have a long way to go. I would venture to guess that the 5th largest corporation in the world, which has committed as many crimes as it has earned dollars, has little in common with me, or the other 6 billion people on Earth. (Well, minus the dozen or so directors on the board of Chevron. Oh, and Shell too, they’re no angels).

Sard Verbinnen & Co. “Has extensive experience advising clients on issues ranging from friendly to hostile transactions. Has helped clients handle communications surrounding sensitive legal and governance issues, including counseling companies and individuals regarding proxy fights, shareholder activism and litigation, civil and criminal actions, and regulatory matters.”

Hostile, fights, activism: all buzz word indicators that a PR firm is going to do its best to spin Chevron as the lowly victim (I know it’s hard not to feel sorry for David O’Reilly’s paltry $34 million compensation last year). Spinning Chevron further away from responsibility and accountability.

Hill & Knowlton “Effective communication is crucial when defending an organization under attack. It needs to be carried out swiftly, with substance and with relevance to each audience. And it must be managed across geographies, business groups and media. Our global team of issues and crisis management consultants helps to build the defenses needed to withstand attacks, manages crises when they happen and advises on strategies to rehabilitate reputations.”

“Under attack?” Chevron has been attacking communities with oil spills, polluting refineries, open crude pits, and financial backing for repressive governments for decades. I wonder if this is the same firm that fed Dave O’Reilly the “We are being held hostage” line he used in an embarrassing debate with the Sierra Club’s Carl Pope. If you really want to feel like a hostage, go and live in the communities, like Lago Agrio, Ecuador, that have to live with the open pits, polluted water, and other remnants of Chevron Texaco’s disgraceful operations.

The tone employed by these PR firms certainly aligns with Chevron’s continued downward spiral of denial. I’m curious what war room tactic they will be pulling out next.

Luckily the only tactic Ecuadorian communities need rely on is the truth.

– 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, August 13, 2009

Protest Chevon's Crimes In Their Own Backyard

Join allies in the fight to clean up Chevron’s dirty operations world-wide. Please come with us this Saturday as we take this message to the gates of Chevron’s Refinery in Richmond CA!

WHERE: Richmond, CA BART. 16th St. & Macdonald Ave Richmond, CA

WHEN: Saturday, August 15th, 11:30am

WHAT: Festival and Rally – 11:30am March on Chevron Refinery – 1:00pm

We are turning up the “Street Heat

As described in "The True Cost of Chevron", instead of cleaning up their messes, reducing oil production and shifting to sustainable industries, Chevron and other Big Oil corporations are expanding their refineries, pipelines and extraction projects. Richmond and Bay Area environmental and climate justice groups are leading a precedent-setting fight against this expansion. A fierce, local grassroots campaign has been fighting Chevron’s strategies to expand their Richmond refinery.

On August 15th, stand with the environmental justice movement that has stopped Chevron’s refinery expansion in Richmond. Chevron already produces two million pounds of air pollution, water pollution, and greenhouse gases each year. The expansion would create much more greenhouse gas and toxic air pollution.

Join the growing alliance of groups and people creating “street heat” for climate justice in the lead up to the December 2009 Copenhagen Climate Talks.

For more information on the mobilization and the events happening after Saturday's festival visit

– Nick

Chevron Soils Itself

Reposted from

Jim Hightower's commentary on Chevron's operations in Ecuador, as only Jim Hightower can.

Listen to audio of the commentary here

Chevron, the world's second-largest (and second-most profitable) oil giant has been running a carefully-crafted PR campaign telling us what a gentle giant it is. A current TV ad solemnly assures us that oil and the environment are not in conflict – "This is not a liberal or conservative issue," intones an announcer. "It's a human issue."

Imagine the amazement that this claim brings to the poor people living in the once-pristine Amazonian rainforest of Ecuador. For a quarter of a century, Chevron's Texaco subsidiary crudely and willfully contaminated the land, water and people of this region with an oil extraction process so crude, careless, and deadly that it still stands as one of the world's grossest examples of corporate insensitivity. In 1990, having taken its profits, Texaco abandoned the region, removing all of its assets and leaving behind its ruinous toxic stew.

This led the Ecuadorians to file a landmark lawsuit against Chevron/Texaco in both New York City and Houston. Corporate lawyers, however, convinced a U.S. judge that the case should not be heard here, but in Ecuador. In those days, the courts there were notoriously corrupt and corporate-friendly, so, expecting the judicial skids to be greased in its favor, the oil giant happily went to trial in Ecuador. Lo and behold, though, political reform has since swept that country, and Chevron now faces the likelihood of an Ecuadorian judgment of $27 billion in damages.

"The gentle giant" is reacting by roaring that it is being "bullied" by the people it harmed. It is attacking the reputation of Ecuadorian experts and judges and – get this – it has rushed back to the U.S. to beg that courts here now take over the case!

It's time for Chevron to come clean, own up, and pay up. For updates and more information contact

"Chevron Expects to Fight Ecuador Lawsuit In U.S.,", July 20, 2009.

– 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.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Chevron Not Even Buying The Lies Chevron Is Selling.

Chevron's Ecuador claims rejected by US courts for 5th time in two years.

Well is seems Chevron's brand new chief in-house Lawyer Hew Pate is really going to have his work cut out for him. Chevron must be telling him something like "hey buddy, we've got nowhere to go but up. Good luck."

Today, in yet another instance where Chevron has quietly tucked its tail between its legs and went home, the fifth lawsuit Chevron has brought to US federal court has been tossed out. Following last month's swift rejection by the US Supreme Court, and with little fanfare, Chevron withdrew its claim that they had been released by the Ecuadorian government of any liability for the dumping of billions of gallons of toxic waste water and crude oil.

Chevron claims that they had remediated a small portion of the 916 waste pits it built in Ecuador. Yet, according to a Special Master report from the Ecuador trial, the so-called remediated sites are extensively contaminated, containing cancer-causing toxins at levels hundreds of times higher than U.S. and Ecuadorian law allows.

Chevron has long claimed that their remediation process has released them of all remaining liabilities. Well, their own decision to withdraw this claim from federal court begs the question... Does Chevron even believe the lies coming from Chevron these days?

– 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.