Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Historic Moment in Chevron-Ecuador Case: Judge Closes Evidence Phase, Ponders Ruling

Friday, December 17th was a momentous day in the long struggle of the people of Ecuador's Amazon rainforest region ravaged by oil giant Chevron, formerly Texaco.

On Friday, More than 17 years since Ecuadorians filed a lawsuit demanding cleanup of Texaco's oil contamination, the judge declared a close to the evidentiary phase of the trial, paving the way for a judgment in the historic case. Sucumbios Provincial Court Judge Nicolas Zambrano declared autos para sentencia – the end of the evidence phase of the trial and the beginning of his deliberations over the massive case record, some 215,000 pages of relevant documents.

The judge told Reuters on Friday:

"The proof phase has been concluded. I have to read what there is in these proceedings and, based on this criteria, issue the corresponding decision."

A Wall Street Journal article reported what many observers believe, that a ruling from the judge is "expected to be ready in the first quarter of next year." Of course, many predictions have been made over the years, and others close to the case say that a judgment could come anytime between February and next fall. Regardless, it means a judgment is finally coming in the case, despite Chevron's myriad, creative, and cynical attempts to delay a ruling indefinitely.

Karen Hinton, a spokeswoman for the Amazon Defense Coalition, which represents the Ecuadorian communities suing Chevron, released a simple statement:

"This decision should put an end to Chevron's continued abusive litigation tactics intended to perpetually delay the resolution of claims that affect the lives of thousands of innocent people."
Photo by Caroline Bennett

Pablo Fajardo, lead lawyer for some 30,000 indigenous and campesino plaintiffs in Ecuador told Pleiteando.com, "These 17 years of trial have shown sustained damage to those who have seen their water supplies, land and air were polluted by Chevron-Texaco. Many of them have already died of cancer and those who survive live in inhumane conditions. At last I see a light at the end of this dark tunnel."

And Pablo spoke to Amazon Watch's Mitch Anderson in Quito on Friday, just minutes after the judge gave his order. See the video below (sorry about the vertical alignment and black bars on the side – it was shot, inexpertly, on an iPhone):

So now, as Pablo explains, even with the evidentiary phase in the trial over, it's important to continue to keep a spotlight on this case, as Chevron has deployed extraordinary resources to delay and disrupt the trial. With a new scorched earth legal strategy designed by its attack dog lawyers from corporate behemoth law firm Gibson Dunn, they have been successful at creating chaos, and forcing the plaintiffs lawyers to defend themselves against all kinds of accusations. But with a judgment on the horizon, the plaintiffs have also brought on a major new ally in the form of their own corporate law behemoth, Washington DC-based firm Patton Boggs.

Responding to Chevron's well-worn accusations about the case, James Tyrell at Patton Boggs told American lawyer magazine's Michael Goldhaber, "I'm certainly not here to join in any fraudulent effort. We cannot be exposed to liability when we have been hired to do the opposite: to make sure that the final judgment is free of fraud. My mission is to see that a judgment on the merits, warranting international respect, is entered in Ecuador, and, if we win, to enforce it."

Enforce it? Yes, this is critical.

It's important to remember that Chevron left Ecuador in 1992, and no longer has assets there. So, even if all goes well for the Ecuadorians, and a judge awards them billions from Chevron to remediate the company's widespread pollution, and provide clean water and health care infrastructure to affected communities, the plaintiffs will have to take that judgment to the courts in places where Chevron does have assets and lay claim to them there.

That's where big guns like Patton Boggs come in. Unfortunately, that also takes time, while people continue to suffer. Watching this saga unfold over the years, it's hard to imagine Chevron shifting gears. I expect that the company will continue to try to shift the blame, attack the plaintiffs lawyers, try to evade a judgment through arbitration and other "end-runs" around the legal process, and whatever other tricks may still be up their sleeve.

For the sake of the communities living around the company's former oil sites, I hope I'm wrong, and that Chevron's honchos will decide it's time for them to stop fighting this losing and dishonorable battle, and finally do the right thing.

– Han

Han Shan is Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

From Appalachia to the Amazon: The Fight Against Coal and Oil

Amazon Watch's Corporate Campaign Director Mitch Anderson helped lead a delegation of supporters and activists to the Ecuadorian Amazon last week. During the delegation, Mitch witnessed a powerful exchange which he wrote about in an article on Huffington Post. It is re-posted below in its entirety.

Let me tell you about the meeting of two great men.

It was the mid 1950s. A coal mine collapsed in the mountains of West Virginia. Larry Gibson was a young boy. His family had been living in the mountains of Appalachia since the 1700s. Larry's father was a strong man, a coal miner, who could load 50 tons of coal a day on his side. Now, he was out of work with a shattered leg. The coal company refused to pay any benefits. The family could not pay their bills. Their house was seized. They sold their furniture. The family was forced to live for months under a willow tree. Larry saw his father crying, and wondered why the world would make such a strong man cry?

It was 1964. A giant "metal bird" was making a terrible noise above the forest canopy in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Emergildo Criollo was six years old. His people, the Cofan tribe, had been living off the abundance of the rivers and forest of the Amazon for thousands of years. They had never seen a helicopter before. Emergildo had never seen a white man. He was terrified. He ran deep into the forest to hide. The Texaco helicopter landed. The oil workers began clearing the forest and detonating explosives in search of oil. Emergildo saw the machinery, and wondered what would possess men to destroy the Earth?

Coal and oil. A half century has passed.

In that time, Larry has witnessed The Appalachians, the most ancient and biodiverse mountain range in North America, being plundered and obliterated by the coal industry. The forests bulldozed and burned. Holes bored and loaded with explosives. Mountains leveled. 2000 miles of rivers and streams buried with rubble and polluted with coal sludge. Hundreds of unlined open pits filled with toxic waste scattered across once pristine ranges. Lungs blackened. Coal miners killed in collapsed mines. Thousands of premature and avoidable deaths.

In that time, Larry has witnessed The Appalachians, the most ancient and biodiverse mountain range in North America, being plundered and obliterated by the coal industry. The forests bulldozed and burned. Holes bored and loaded with explosives. Mountains leveled. 2000 miles of rivers and streams buried with rubble and polluted with coal sludge. Hundreds of unlined open pits filled with toxic waste scattered across once pristine ranges. Lungs blackened. Coal miners killed in collapsed mines. Thousands of premature and avoidable deaths.

And Emergildo has witnessed the same kind of destruction of his Amazonian homeland. From 1964 to 1990, Texaco (now Chevron) turned the pristine rainforest of northeastern Ecuador into an energy sacrifice zone. Hundreds of unlined open waste pits filled with crude oil, poisonous drilling muds, industrial solvents, acids, and heavy metals, are littered across the ancestral territory of the Cofan people, leaching into the rivers and streams. Over the course of Texaco's operations in Ecuador, the company deliberately dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste water directly into the waterways, and spilled an estimated 17 million gallons of crude oil into the ecosystem. And now the communities which once thrived off of the pristine rainforest are suffering a public health crisis, including a wave of cancer and birth defects. Their hunting grounds have disappeared. Their traditional medicines are no match for oil contamination.

Why would the world make a such a strong man cry? And what would possess men to destroy the Earth?

Last week, Larry Gibson, who has dedicated his life to fighting the coal industry and preserving Appalachia, left the United States for the first time and traveled to the Ecuadorian Amazon to witness the impacts of oil contamination firsthand and meet with community leaders, who have been fighting for decades to force Texaco -- now Chevron -- to clean up their Amazon disaster.

I had the chance to witness the meeting of two great men. It was dusk in the community of Cofan-Dureno. Larry sat on a stump in the middle of the traditional community center of the Cofan. Emergildo spoke: ...the rivers ran black with crude day and night. The flares burned in the forest day and night. And one day I brought my three year old son to bathe in the river. And he drank the water. I took him home and he was vomiting blood. He wouldn't stop vomiting blood. The next day he died.

Larry took a deep breath. He closed his eyes. I heard him say softly, "And for what? Love of money. Profit!" His eyes filled with water, and a tear ran down his wise face.


To support mountain communities in Appalachia, visit:

Mountain Keepers: www.MountainKeepers.org

Coal River Mountain Watch: www.crmw.net

Climate Ground Zero: www.ClimateGroundZero.net

Rainforest Action Network: www.Ran.org

To support communities in Ecuador, visit:

Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign: www.ChevronToxico.com

Rainforest Action Network's Change Chevron campaign: www.ChangeChevron.org

Amazon Defense Coalition: www.TexacoToxico.org/eng

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

No Sanction for Chevron Lawyers Over Abusive Questioning in Ecuador Case

As followers of this blog know, American oil giant Chevron has been on a legal rampage, engaging in a scorched earth political, legal, and media strategy in an 11th hour attempt to evade accountability for massive oil pollution the company discharged into the environment in the Ecuadorian Amazon, which continues to sicken and kill people living in the contaminated region. Using abusive and unprecedented tactics, Chevron and its outside lawyers at corporate law behemoth Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher have lately been serving subpoenas to many of the scientific and other experts who have helped the local indigenous people, farmers, and migrants who are suing Chevron for environmental cleanup.

Recently, ecologist Doug Beltman, a consultant scientist for the Ecuadorians, sat for a deposition with Chevron's lawyers from Gibson Dunn. Immediately, Chevron's attack dog attorney Andrea Neuman let loose at Mr. Beltman with a fusillade of questions that were clearly designed to harass and intimidate him. She needled him about his knowledge of various criminal statues and implied that he could be facing criminal prosecution or that his company could be debarred from contracting for the Federal Government, a major client of Mr. Beltman's esteemed environmental consulting firm, Boulder-based Stratus Consulting.

Following the shocking deposition, lawyers for Mr. Beltman and Stratus, as well as lawyers for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, filed a motion for sanctions against Chevron's lawyers over the abusive questioning.

In "Stratus’ and Ecuadorian Plaintiffs’ Motion for Sanctions Against Petitioner Chevron Corporation," they wrote:

"Counsel’s clear intent, right at the beginning of the deposition, was to intimidate the witness by raising the specter of criminal proceedings and government debarment of Stratus. The questioning had no legitimate purpose. It did not concern Mr. Beltman’s knowledge concerning facts relevant to the proceeding. It was blatant, naked intimidation that violated Local Rule 30.3(A)(5)."

A month later on November 15th, Colorado Magistrate Judge Michael Hegarty issued a ruling that ordered Neuman and her Gibson Dunn colleagues to refrain from similar kinds of questioning in future proceedings.

The Amazon Defense Coalition, which represents the plaintiffs, issued a press release a few days later, with the headline, "Chevron Lawyers at Gibson Dunn Sanctioned by Federal Court Over Ecuador Case."

I read the transcript of Andrea Neuman's questioning of Doug Beltman. I read the motion for sanctions filed by his lawyers and those of the Ecuadorian plaintiffs. I read the ruling from the judge. And I read the ADC's press release. Then, I wrote an article here, also using the word "sanction" to characterize the court's decision.

Well, it seems that Chevron and their hired guns can live with blood on their hands as they diligently work day in and day out to deny justice to the suffering men, women, and children living with the oil giant's pollution in Ecuador. But for the plaintiffs' lawyers to suggest that the magistrate judge had "sanctioned" Ms. Neuman was simply too much to bear.

Shortly after the ADC's press release went out, Gibson Dunn lawyers fired off letters to the plaintiffs' attorneys demanding that they retract the release and that they remove my article. Of course, the Amazon Defense Coalition doesn't control this blog. It's a place for commentary and analysis on Chevron's legacy in Ecuador – and the epic legal battle to hold the company accountable – written by activists with Amazon Watch, like me.

Nonetheless, lawyers from the ADC did drop me a few lines asking me to please remove the post. It seems that Chevron is throwing absolutely everything they have at them and I guess it's enough to have to deal with all the rest of the abusive litigation tactics without worrying about some sort of ridiculous defamation suit.

Finally, Chevron went back to the judge and asked him to clarify the original ruling which read:

Stratus’ and Ecuadorian Plaintiffs’ Motion for Sanctions Against Petitioner Chevron Corporation (Doc. #272, filed 10/14/10) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part as stated on the record. Petitioner’s questions in dispute asked during Respondent Beltman’s deposition shall not be repeated in depositions of other witnesses.

This time, the judge writes in a clarifying order:

Petitioner Chevron Corporation’s Motion for Clarification of the Court’s Order (Dkt. 293) on Stratus and Ecuadorian Plaintiffs’ Motion for Sanctions (Dkt. 272) in Light of Plaintiffs’ Misleading Press Release Stating the Court “Sanctioned” Chevron’s Lawyers [filed November 22, 2010; docket #298] is granted as follows. Although the Stratus Respondents and the Ecuadorian Plaintiffs termed their request for relief as a sanction, the Court views its ruling simply as a ruling on an objection to the line of Petitioner’s questioning challenged by the Respondents and Plaintiffs. The Court granted the motion for sanctions to the extent the Court sustained the objection to the line of questioning, but the Court denied the motion to the extent it sought sanctions.

So there it is; as vague as it was, when the judge originally wrote "denied in part" he was referring to the sanctions against Ms. Newman and her colleagues sought by lawyers for Mr. Beltman and the Ecuadorian plaintiffs. So it is not accurate to say that Ms. Neumann was sanctioned by the judge.

Of course, in Ecuador, three Chevron lawyers HAVE been sanctioned – and fined – for abusing court procedures to obstruct and delay the trial. Another two Chevron lawyers are under criminal indictment for lying about a phony remediation in order to secure a release of liability from the government... which, it should be noted, does not apply to the individuals in Ecuador still fighting for cleanup and compensation.

Anyway, whether or not we think the abusive tactics by Chevron's lawyers deposing plaintiffs' consultant Doug Beltman deserve to be sanctioned, the Judge has clarified his order. No sanction. And after hearing from the plaintiffs' lawyers again about the threatening letters, I've updated the previous post (Hey Chevron lawyers, no need to send me a letter, thanks!). Now, Gibson Dunn has even sent out a press release, accusing the plaintiffs' lawyers of "knowingly" disseminating "false and defamatory statements" when in fact the only thing in question – if you read the press releases and court filings – is use of the word "sanction" itself.

But since the judge has clarified his order, I agree that the record should be corrected. And so it is.

Now, if only Chevron and its lawyers would get so worked up about the ongoing epidemic of cancer and spontaneous miscarriages around the company's former oil sites in Ecuador.

Read more about Chevron and their Gibson Dunn lawyers' scorched-earth legal, political, and PR strategy to evade accountability in Ecuador in this briefing paper published by Amazon Watch: UNDERSTANDING RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN THE LANDMARK CHEVRON-ECUADOR CASE

– Han

Han Shan is Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

Friday, November 19, 2010

Abusive Conduct in Ecuador Case Earns Chevron Lawyers Sanction from Federal Court

UPDATE - Dec. 7th: A Federal Magistrate Judge has issued a ruling to clarify his previous order in response to a motion from lawyers for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs and expert consultant Doug Beltman. While the judge in Colorado did order Andrea Neuman and the other Gibson Dunn lawyers for Chevron to refrain in the future from the kind of abusive questioning it had engaged in during a deposition of Mr. Beltman, he declined to grant sanctions against Neuman and her colleagues. For more details read this post.

A federal court has sanctioned Andrea Neuman, a top lawyer for Chevron's attack-dog outside law firm Gibson Dunn, for attempting to intimidate a witness in the Chevron-Ecuador case. A federal magistrate judge in Colorado sanctioned Neuman for abusive questioning of Doug Beltman, a respected expert on environmental chemistry, toxicology and ecology, who serves as a consultant for the indigenous and campesino plaintiffs demanding Chevron clean up its spreading contamination in Ecuador's impoverished Amazon rainforest region.

As I've written about before on this blog, Chevron has been on a legal rampage, filing motion after motion against the Ecuadorian plaintiffs' expert witnesses and consultants residing in the U.S. Most notably, the oil giant outraged 1st Amendment supporters when it subpoenaed hundreds of hours of raw footage from filmmaker Joe Berlinger whose film CRUDE examined Chevron's toxic legacy in Ecuador.

The Chevron lawyers persuaded the courts to allow them to depose Doug Beltman, an ecologist and former director of ecological risk assessment with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Beltman is now the Vice President of an esteemed environmental consulting firm in Colorado called Stratus Consulting. He sat for a deposition with Gibson Dunn's Andrea Neuman on October 6th in Denver, and immediately faced an abusive barrage of questions that amounted to "naked, blatant intimidation," according to the plaintiffs' motion for a sanction of the Chevron lawyers.

An excerpt:

"Counsel’s clear intent, right at the beginning of the deposition, was to intimidate the witness by raising the specter of criminal proceedings and government debarment of Stratus. The questioning had no legitimate purpose. It did not concern Mr. Beltman’s knowledge concerning facts relevant to the proceeding. It was blatant, naked intimidation that violated Local Rule 30.3(A)(5)."

The motion continues:

"At the October 6, 2010 deposition of Mr. Beltman, a third party to the Lago Agrio case, Chevron attempted to embarrass, humiliate, intimidate, harass, and threaten Mr. Beltman, questioning him about his knowledge of federal criminal statutes, about RICO, about the Hobbs Act, about other courts’ decisions in this case concerning crime fraud, about government debarment of contractors, and other topics that have nothing whatsoever to do with legitimate questioning in this case. These blatant intimidation tactics have no place in this case and fall below the standards of professional conduct required by the Local and Federal Rules. Stratus and Plaintiffs respectfully submit that Chevron should be sanctioned…"

In an Amazon Defense Coalition press release today, lead Ecuadorian attorney for the Amazonian communities Pablo Fajardo is quoted:

"This court in Colorado was willing to stand up to Gibson Dunn's bullying and abusive tactics. Chevron is using these tactics as part of its campaign to cover up its own fraud and wrongdoing in Ecuador."

Of course, this isn't the first time Andrea Neuman's conduct during a deposition in this case has been questionable. As I wrote on this blog a few weeks ago, after a judge allowed Chevron to depose another plaintiff's expert named Bill Powers, a lawyer for the plaintiffs asked for the opportunity to cross-examine Mr. Powers for a few minutes, a standard practice. But Neuman and her Gibson Dunn colleagues vigorously objected, becoming agitated and throwing out a slew of ridiculous excuses, saying the office was closing, the cameraman shooting video of the deposition had to pack up, and then claiming "we literally have to leave the building."

Finally, when none of these things came to pass, the plaintiffs cross-examined Mr. Powers who explained that the toxins released by Chevron into Ecuador's Amazon rainforest amounted to "30 times the quantity or the volume of crude that was spilled in the Exxon-Valdez disaster."

But Andrea Neuman's questionable conduct isn't confined to depositions. In fact, apparently, she isn't above flat-out lying to the media about the facts of the case.

When a federal judge ordered Chevron's self-proclaimed 'dirty tricks' guy in Ecuador Diego Borja to sit for a deposition about his attempts to undermine the trial by making secret recordings of the presiding judge, Neuman lied to a reporter covering the development.

Neuman was quoted in the legal outlet San Francisco Daily Journal saying that "the [Ecuador trial] judge… was seen on these authenticated tapes soliciting a multimillion-dollar bribe."

But as The New York Times reported, “No bribes were shown in the tapes” and “It is not clear from the recordings and transcripts provided by Chevron whether any bribes were paid or whether Judge Núñez and Ms. Correa were aware of plans to try to bribe them.” Ms. Correa, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa's sister was mentioned briefly and randomly in the recordings.

Of course, while it's nice that The New York Times points that out, the reporter seems to miss the critical point that any "plans to try to bribe them" were devised by former Chevron employee Diego Borja and his shadowy American sidekick, a convicted felon and drug trafficker named Wayne Hansen. Now Borja is hiding out in his home minutes away from Chevron's headquarters in San Ramon, CA., waiting to hear when he'll have to spill the beans about his illegal operations to corrupt the trial in Ecuador, and what role Chevron's executives and outside law firms played in their planning.

I've speculated on this blog about whether Borja's testimony could implicate Chevron bigwigs like General Counsel Hewitt Pate or lawyers like Tim Cullen from Jones Day, another of Chevron's outside law firms. Borja held meetings with Chevron lawyers at Jones Day's offices in San Francisco in the midst of his spy-video dirty tricks operation. If he implicates Chevron execs and top lawyers from the company's outside law firms, we may see investigations under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Something like that would be a whole lot more serious than the kind of sanction Gibson Dunn's Andrea Neuman just received for her abusive questioning. But with Gibson Dunn's history of representing the worst of the worst of corporate offenders and bragging about "innovative rescues" of "clients in deep trouble," we should keep an eye on Ms. Neuman and her attack dog legal colleagues.

Read more about Chevron and their Gibson Dunn lawyers' scorched-earth legal, political, and PR strategy to evade accountability in Ecuador in this briefing paper published by Amazon Watch: UNDERSTANDING RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN THE LANDMARK CHEVRON-ECUADOR CASE

– Han

Han Shan is Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Will Testimony of Chevron's Dirty Tricks Guy in Ecuador Implicate Company Bosses?

Diego Borja, self-proclaimed 'dirty tricks' operative for Chevron in Ecuador, was scheduled to be in federal court in California yesterday. He didn't show but his high-priced criminal defense lawyers –– selected and paid for by Chevron –– did, including Cristina C. Arguedas, who represents such high-profile clients as disgraced former San Francisco Giants star Barry Bonds.

Sources suggest Borja's lawyers didn't make a very convincing argument about why their elusive client shouldn't have to testify under oath about his efforts to undermine the trial over Chevron's massive contamination in Ecuador's Amazon rainforest. Now it's looking more and more likely that this guy will be testifying very soon.

Borja was caught on tape talking about his dirty tricks operation –– including tampering with evidence, offering bribes, and attempts at entrapping a judge –– on behalf of his "bosses" at Chevron. A friend-turned-whistleblower named Santiago Escobar made recordings of Borja talking about how the company "cooked evidence" in the trial. Escobar testified about Borja's admissions before Ecuador's Prosecutor General's office, which is conducting its own investigation.

Whistleblower Santiago Escobar speaking to media about his former friend Diego Borja, who fled Ecuador with the help of Chevron

When Borja is deposed, what will he tell us about Chevron's General Counsel Hewitt Pate and his involvement with schemes aimed at corrupting the Ecuadorian judiciary? How about former top lawyer Charles James, a lawyer for George W. Bush's Justice Department who was Chevron's GC at the time Borja was concocting a sting operation against the judge then overseeing the trial in Ecuador? What will Borja tell us about the Jones Day lawyers like Tim Cullen at whose San Francisco offices Borja had a meeting in the midst of his Nixon-style dirty tricks operation?

While I like to keep a focus on the heart of the matter –– that is, incontrovertible evidence that Chevron is guilty of oil pollution that continues to sicken and kill thousands of people in one of Ecuador's poorest regions –– it's hard not to wonder about the legal implications of Borja's potential testimony. If he implicates Chevron bigwigs and top lawyers from the company's outside law firms, we may see investigations under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. It could get very serious, very quickly.

In September, Judge Edward M. Chen of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California said that Chevron had "implicated" Borja as a witness to its claims against the courts in Ecuador, and ordered Borja to sit for a deposition by attorneys for the Republic of Ecuador. Borja's attorneys filed a motion to "quash" the subpoena and avoid providing testimony, leading to the hearing yesterday.

Lawyers for the communities suing Chevron for clean-up in Ecuador surely have sights on deposing Borja under oath and learning more about his 'dirty tricks' designed to undermine the trial in Ecuador. However, this discovery motion granted to Ecuador is in relation to Chevron's attempts to force the country into a binding arbitration, where the oil giant would try to make the Republic –– and its citizens –– pick up the tab for the toxic mess left behind by the American company.

In his original order that Borja be deposed, the judge wrote that there's evidence "Mr. Borja was not an innocent third party… but rather was a long-time associate of Chevron whom Chevron would pay for any favorable testimony."

Among Diego 'Dirty Tricks' Borja's quotes from the recordings cited in the legal filings is this gem:

"... I have correspondence [with Chevron officials] that talks about things you can't even imagine, dude... they're things that can make the Amazons win this just like this [snapping fingers]... I mean, what I have is conclusive evidence, photos of how they managed things internally."

Last summer, Borja, a long-time Chevron employee in Ecuador who has been closely associated with the oil giant's legal defense in the environmental lawsuit, spearheaded an undercover sting operation against the judge then overseeing the trial. Borja and a shady American former drug trafficker and convicted felon named Wayne Hansen posed as businessmen interested in contracts for environmental remediation should the plaintiffs prevail in the legal battle demanding Chevron clean up its oil contamination.

They made secret spy-pen video recordings of the judge, and after Borja flew to San Francisco and met with Chevron lawyers, returned to Ecuador where they attempted to bribe a man who passed himself off as an official with Ecuador's ruling political party. Unfortunately for the con men, they were trying to bribe another con man. The "party official" turned out to be –– wait for it –– a used car salesman.

Unfortunately, it didn't stop Chevron from breathlessly declaring in press releases and statements blasted to mainstream media that it had discovered a "bribery scandal" implicating the judge in Ecuador.

But as the New York Times reported about the recordings Borja and Hansen made of the judge:

"No bribes were shown in the tapes..."

Since cooperating with Chevron in cynical efforts to corrupt the judicial process in Ecuador, Borja has been holed up in a $6000/month home just minutes away from the company's headquarters in San Ramon, CA.

You know the old adage about keeping your friends close, and your enemies closer? For Chevron's executives and outside lawyers, it's yet to be determined which one Diego Borja will turn out to be. Stay tuned.

Background on Diego Borja:

San Francisco Daily Journal, September 14, 2010:
With Discovery Bid, Ecuador Turns Tables On Chevron

Amazon Defense Coalition press release, September 14, 2010:
Lawsuit Targets Chevron "Dirty Tricks" Operative Over Ecuador Video Corruption Scandal

The whistleblower report on Diego Borja, including recordings of him spilling the beans to his childhood friend about his involvement in Chevron's systematic attempts to corrupt the trial:
Chevron's Dirty Tricks Operative in Ecuador, Diego Borja: Whistleblower Report

And for further background, read two Huffington Post articles I wrote:

First, I blew the lid off the whole supposed "corruption scandal" only days after Chevron announced it last fall:
Chevron's 'Dirty Tricks Operation' in the Amazon

Then I revealed the shockingly shady past of Diego Borja's convicted felon, drug-trafficker, partner-in-crime Wayne Hansen:
Chevron's Man in Ecuador: Felon, Drug-Trafficker, and Liar, Oh My!

– Han

Han Shan is Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Video: Former Chevron/Texaco Oil Worker in Ecuador: "We Dumped Toxic Waste into the Rainforest"

In the Ecuadorian Amazon region ravaged by decades of Chevron's reckless oil operations, almost everyone has a story of oil's ill affect on his or her life. Indigenous leaders talk about the unraveling of their traditional cultures due to the onslaught of Big Oil in their ancestral lands. Campesinos speak of coming to the region hoping for oil industry jobs, only to find sickness and suffering caused by constant exposure to toxins. And in this interview, a former oilfield worker talks of the helplessness he felt at being ordered by his bosses at Texaco (now Chevron) to dump toxic waste directly into the rainforest environment, day after day.

Jhinsop Martinez Erraez was only a teenager when he began working at "Dureno Uno," the first oil well at Dureno, east along the Aguarico river from the oil boomtown of Lago Agrio in the traditional territory of the Cofan people.

In the interview he explains how the toxic byproducts of oil drilling were disposed, saying, "The wastewater was dumped into a ravine, a stream, without any treatment at all."

He goes on to explain:

And at that time these were mountainous lands, pure rainforest existed, rich in flora and fauna; and this destroyed everything. And since we were just simple workers we couldn’t say anything.

Over the course of its time as the sole operator of the oil concession in the northeastern rainforest region in Ecuador, on top of spilling millions gallons of crude and abandoning hundreds of waste pits filled with poisonous sludge, Chevron dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater directly into rivers and streams depended upon by thousands of men, women, and children for drinking and bathing.

Besides the testimony of a man like Jhinsop, how do we know? How do we know that other workers at other wells drilled throughout the sprawling Ecuadorian oilfields were operating in the same deliberately reckless fashion? In fact we know this from the company's own audits, commissioned as it was preparing to depart Ecuador.

In the meantime, Chevron's lawyers and junk scientists continue to claim that this systematic daily poisoning of the region's waters over decades posed (and poses) no threat to the people living there.

I wonder what these Chevron big-wigs would say if the same water that runs in the streams through Chevron's former dumping grounds was running from their taps at home.

Hey, don't worry, CEO John Watson. It's perfectly safe. Really, don't worry about it, Board Members George Kirkland, Sam Nunn, Chuck Hagel, we tested it. Don't let it concern you, VP of Health, Environment and Safety Chuck Taylor, there's no scientific consensus that it's dangerous! Don't stress, General Counsel Hewitt Pate, there's no conclusive proof that it causes cancer! Silvia, seriously. Do not worry Silvia "Global Issues Manager" Garrigo, it's naturally occurring in the environment!

Really, don't worry guys, it's just (toxic, highly-saline, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon-contaminated, benzene, arsenic, chromium, and other chemical-laced) water! Enjoy.

– Han

Han Shan is Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

Friday, November 5, 2010

John Connor: Chevron's Well-Paid Liar in Ecuador

Along with our campaign allies at RAN & the tricksters at The Yes Men, we've been having some fun exposing Chevron's widely-panned new 'We Agree' ad campaign for the insulting greenwash it is.

But now, I want to turn back to some serious matters in the ongoing legal battle to hold Chevron accountable for massive devastation in Ecuador's Amazon rainforest region.

The Amazon Defense Coalition (ADC) issued a press release a few weeks back that highlighted a legal judgment against Chevron in Mississippi this past Spring. A jury verdict says that Chevron must pay $19 million dollars to five plaintiffs who were exposed to leaded gasoline fumes from leaking underground gas tanks owned by the company. According to the Associated Press, the daughter of the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit was born "severely mentally disabled, and the children of the other women suffer from respiratory conditions and learning disabilities."

What does this have to do with Ecuador and the mothers and children there who say Chevron is poisoning them?

Well, it was Chevron’s lead American expert in the Ecuador case John Connor who also testified in this recent Mississippi case. The U.S. jury rejected Connor's testimony, and a reading of the court transcript unveils some very damning information.

An excerpt from the ADC press release:

In the trial -- which took place in Jefferson County, Mississippi -- Connor conceded on cross-examination that over almost two decades of work for Chevron he has never once concluded that the impact of his client’s operations has harmed even a single person, according to the court documents. Connor testified that he knew of no circumstance where “there were any injuries of individuals that were the responsibility of Chevron or Texaco.”

Connor also tried to exonerate Chevron by testifying that any contamination must have been caused by leaks from three storage tanks owned by a smaller company in the area, not the larger tanks owned by Chevron. But when confronted on cross-examination by evidence that he had misidentified the site from a state database, Connor admitted that he had never taken any steps to definitively verify that the gas tanks actually existed on the smaller company’s property.
John Connor: "Chevron paid me well to tell you this oil poses no danger to anyone."

Connor's testimony in Mississippi is very similar to his under-oath spin in the Ecuador case, intended to shore up Chevron's ludicrous argument that Ecuador's state oil company Petroecuador is responsible for all of the oil contamination in the region. This, despite Chevron admitting that it dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into Amazon waterways depended upon by thousands of local people for drinking and bathing. This, despite the fact that Chevron (in the form of its subsidiary Texaco, of course) dug every one of the 900+ toxic waste pits that the company abandoned, many of which continue to leech poisons into the soil and ground water [see this video to understand exactly how that happens].

Under cross-examination in Mississippi, Connor also admits that Chevron has paid him "at least" $8 million over the years and estimates that $5 million of that has been for his work in Ecuador.

Ordering Chevron to pay $19 million in damages, a jury in Mississippi rejected his ludicrous and laughable testimony and concluded that this guy has no credibility. And I encourage you, dear reader, to read the transcript. Even on paper in a format as weird as a court transcript, he sounds evasive and slippery at best, and like he's simply lying through his teeth at other times.

Now, people who are following the monumental class action in Ecuador will know that Chevron has been in a legal frenzy over the last few months, filing legal actions against more than 20 people on the plaintiffs' side demanding 'discovery' ranging from turning over footage and files to sitting for depositions conducted by Chevron lawyers.

The plaintiffs, busy dealing with this legal onslaught by a company with nearly bottomless resources, have yet to be able to truly fight fire with fire and seek discovery from Chevron in the same way.

In September, a U.S. judge granted a request by the government of Ecuador to subpoena Chevron's self-avowed 'dirty tricks guy' Diego Borja. Borja, of course, was captured by a friend-turned-whistleblower talking about how the company "cooked evidence" in the trial in Ecuador, and suggesting that his "bosses" at the company were directing him.

Now, it's time for the plaintiffs to drop some subpoenas on some of these Chevron "bosses" so we can learn the truth about the dirty tricks and lies that Chevron has been employing to evade accountability for its devastation in Ecuador.

But the more I learn about Chevron's highly-paid and deceitful "expert" John Connor, I think he may be the perfect place to start.

– Han

Han Shan is the Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Launch of Chevron's New PR Blitz Overshadowed by Hoax & Hijinks; Toxic Legacy in Ecuador Highlighted

Allow me to let the lead sentence in today's Associated Press article set the stage:

Activists seeking to condemn Chevron Corp.'s environmental record have turned to guerrilla-style tactics, grabbing attention with an online hoax that pre-empted a corporate advertising campaign.

Along with our allies at Rainforest Action Network, we worked with corporate crime-fighting pranksters The Yes Men to make sure that this week's launch of Chevron's new 'We Agree' ad campaign would NOT go unchallenged.

As The Yes Men explain in a press release that went out early Tuesday:

The activists' pre-emptive campaign began early Monday with a press release from a spoof Chevron domain, which launched the fake “We Agree” site hours before the real Chevron could launch its own, real campaign. The fake “We Agree” site featured four “improved” advertisements..."

The parody ads and ad copy on the site highlight Chevron's environmental and social abuses, and feature photos of Chevron's contamination in Ecuador, and victims who are part of the ongoing, valiant effort to hold Chevron accountable.

As Ecuadorian indigenous leader Emergildo Criollo said in response to Chevron's new ad blitz:

"Instead of spending millions of dollars on advertising to improve its image, Chevron should clean up the toxic waste pits that they abandoned, and pay to care for people with cancer that the contamination has caused."
We Agree.

And our hijinks around this "textbook example of greenwashing," as I told the AP, ARE turning the spotlight back to the very concerns that Chevron's deceptive advertising is designed to co-opt and conceal. Now you, dear reader, can help keep Chevron in the hot seat and it will only take a few seconds...

After reporting on our efforts, The Washington Post is conducting a poll, asking: What do you think of Chevron's new 'We Agree' ad campaign?


Did you vote?


Okay, then enjoy reading more on this latest effort to use just the right amount of subterfuge to help Chevron with a little much-needed "truth in advertising."

Fast Company was the first media outlet to fall (hook line, and sinker) for the hoax– here's an excerpt from the updated version of its article:

Yes Men's version involved an ad with a smiling elderly indigenous man wearing a bandana, with the words "OIL COMPANIES SHOULD CLEAN UP THEIR MESSES," along with a red stamp that reads "We Agree"--followed by the signatures of Chevron higher-ups. The ad was supposed to be a reference to a years-long lawsuit in Ecuador, where Chevron is accused of being responsible for $27 billion of oil pollution clean-up costs. Chevron.com refers to the Ecuadorian lawsuit as "a meritless case"; according to the Christian Science Monitor, Chevron has taken out quarter-page newspaper ads with defensive headlines like "the fraud of the century." Nevertheless, Ecuadorians appeared to be the heroes of Chevron's new ad campaign. It was fake, we now know.
And here are links to a bunch of the coverage so far – from mainstream media and wire stories to ad industry and energy outlets to political blogs. I'll highlight a few of my favorite headlines...

The New York Times
The Washington Post
Associated Press: 'Activists parody Chevron ad campaign in hoax, seeking to spotlight concerns'
Agence France Press [updated version, after hoax was revealed]
Agence France Presse [original, 'archived' version]
Yahoo! News' The Upshot: 'New Chevron ‘We Agree’ ad campaign hijacked by anti-corporate tricksters'
KGO-TV Channel 7, ABC News in the Bay Area
BNET - CBS Interactive Business Network: 'Chevron Punk’d! How the Big Oil Company Lost Control of Its Message '
San Francisco Business Times
O'Dwyer's (Public Relations blog): 'Chevron Should Adopt Goals of Spoof PR Push'

As many outlets above reported, Chevron spends nearly $100 million a year in advertising (and I don't think that counts their army of highly-paid PR spinmasters) so it's very unlikely they're going to turn back from the investment the company's already made in their 'We Agree' campaign. But this was merely the quick-n-dirty opening salvo from a handful of people who are sick of Chevron treating them like idiots.

And as more and more people see their ads, I think we'll be joined by a whole lot of people that feel the same way. Creative, funny, intelligent, forward-looking people who I suspect are going to make this first little hoax seem like an amateurish warm-up.

– Han

Han Shan is the Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Breaking news: “Toxic sludge boss” brought to justice!

Our allies at Rainforest Action Network's Change Chevron team posted a great article on their blog yesterday; I'm reposting it in its entirety below. Please read, and share...
–Han, Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

A pipe to drain crude contamination from open toxic pools into waterways near Lago Agrio, Ecuador. The toxic pools in the Ecuadorean Amazon rainforest were abandoned by Texaco (now Chevron) after oil drilling operations ended in 1990 and were never remediated. Photo by Caroline Bennett

It seems, at times, as if corporate executives operate with near-impunity, rarely being held accountable for polluting the planet in their quest for profits. But today, at least one exec is behind bars for contributing to the deaths of several people who were inundated by millions of gallons of toxic sludge that his company had failed to dispose of properly.

No, I’m not talking about Chevron CEO John Watson, though I certainly could (and probably should) be. Watson is still at large, enjoying his impunity while 30,000 Ecuadoreans continue to suffer the effects of the 18 billion gallons of toxic oil waste his company refuses to clean up in the rainforests of Ecuador.

I’m actually talking about Zoltan Bakonyi, the managing director of MAL Rt., the Hungarian Aluminum Production and Trade Company, which was responsible for a flood of toxic sludge that killed eight people in Hungary last week.

The similarities between what happened in Hungary and the ongoing catastrophe in Ecuador are striking. Both are entirely man-made disasters that should never have happened, both are the result of corporate negligence, and both point out how environmentally unsustainable industries externalize the costs of their dirty businesses onto those communities unfortunate enough to be adjacent to their polluting operations.

There are plenty of differences between the two cases, as well. For one thing, the toxic sludge from MAL Rt.’s aluminum plant only claimed eight lives and seems to be mostly contained at this point, whereas Chevron’s toxic oil waste has so far led to some 1,400 deaths, and could lead to 10,000 more by 2080 even if Chevron cleans up its mess immediately — which of course the company still refuses to do altogether.

The biggest difference is, of course, the fact that MAL Rt. managing director Zoltan Bakonyi has been detained by Hungarian authorities and is being held responsible, while John Watson is still free, still polluting, and still not taking responsibility for the damage his company’s pollution has caused.

The Change Chevron team leaves their cleaning supplies at Chevron CEO John Watson's house. Photo: Rainforest Action Network

Yesterday, as part of 350.org’s 10/10/10 Global Work Party, we got to work cleaning up Chevron stations in an attempt to urge the company to do the same in Ecuador. At the end of the day, we dropped off our cleaning supplies at Watson’s home in Lafayette, CA (as you can see in the photo above) in the hopes that he might put them to use some time soon. If you want to help, you can go to Chevron’s Facebook page and tell Watson and Chevron to get to work cleaning up Ecuador right now.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Chevron's Toxic Waste Pits in Ecuador: Designed to Pollute

A couple of months ago, I traveled with my Amazon Watch colleagues Mitch and Kevin into the Ecuadorian Amazon, where we met up with our friend Donald, an activist with the Amazon Defense Coalition. In this video, Mitch and Donald illustrate Chevron's toxic legacy in Ecuador, in the form of one abandoned toxic waste pit (among hundreds of others) that is literally designed to pollute. Watch it now:

UPDATE: After I uploaded the video to Youtube but before I'd posted it anywhere, someone over at Current.com posted it and it has started a discussion... go join in.

At each of the 356 oil wells that Chevron (then, of course, in the form of Chevron subsidiary Texaco) drilled throughout the Amazon rainforest region of Ecuador during its operations over nearly three decades, the company carved out several pits to hold waste products from the drilling process.

These kinds of pits are meant to be temporary, but Chevron abandoned more than 900 pits, littered across the rainforest floor, filled with a sludge of crude and toxic chemicals, that continue to leach into soil as well as groundwater relied upon by thousands of local residents for drinking and bathing.

Douglas Beltman, an expert on oil contamination and former ecologist with the Superfund program of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, explains:

"'Reserve pits' have been used to temporarily store drilling fluids and other wastes, such as unrecovered or spilled oil, before the wastes are treated and disposed of... Pits should not be covered with oil and should be closed when the well is completed."

When he says "when the well is completed," he just means once the oil well is drilled, and is not suggesting waiting until after the oil well has been pumped dry years or decades later.

By using unlined pits, Texaco put the health of Ecuadorian citizens and their environment at risk in order to save money. This cold economic rationale is demonstrated by the conclusion of a Texaco official in a 1980 internal memo:

"...the current [unlined] pits are necessary for efficient and economical operations of our drilling ... operations. The total cost of eliminating the old pits and lining new pits would be $4,197,958... It is recommended that the pits neither be lined or filled."

So what has been the impact of the company's rationale?

A recent study of the number of excess cancer deaths associated with living in or near the oil fields in the Oriente estimates that nearly 10,000 people could succumb to oil-related cancer by 2080, even if Chevron begins cleaning up its contamination in 2011 and finishes by 2020.

Angel Toala is but one person who has died as a result of Texaco's greedy calculus and Chevron's years of delay and deception about its ultimate responsibility to clean up its life-threatening toxic mess in the Amazon.

Angel Toala at his home in Shushufindi shortly before succumbing to stomach cancer. Photo by Lou Dematteis. Angel's wife Luz Maria Martin:

I don’t think the oil company (Texaco) worried if they contaminated the water. We farmers didn't realize the water was contaminated, and certainly it was not in the oil company’s interest to tell us that.
Read the rest of the profile of Luz & Angel, from a post here last March.

– Han

Han Shan is Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Ecuador Oil Pollution Expert's Truthful Testimony Makes Chevron Lawyers Freak Out in Deposition

The Ecuadorian plaintiffs demanding Chevron clean up its toxic mess in Ecuador filed a legal memorandum last week containing some priceless truth-telling that Chevron's lawyers tried to stop, including the opinion of a leading authority on oil field contamination that Chevron dumped toxic liquids into the environment amounting to "30 times the quantity or the volume of crude that was spilled in the Exxon-Valdez disaster."

An Amazon Defense Coalition press release issued today explains:

One of Chevron's lawyers at the law firm of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher flew into a panic during a recent deposition when an American consulting expert began to testify about the massive quantities of toxins dumped by the oil giant in Ecuador, where Chevron faces a multi-billion dollar legal liability, according to court papers filed recently.

It goes on to further explain why an American expert was testifying at a deposition:

Faced with overwhelming scientific evidence of the contamination in Ecuador, Chevron recently returned to U.S. courts to seek discovery of 23 Americans associated with the case. This led to the deposition in San Diego on Sept. 10 of the American consulting expert, William Powers.

Last month, a judge permitted Chevron's lawyers to depose Powers, a petroleum engineer and environmental expert. In San Diego, on September 10th, Powers was deposed by Andrea Neuman, one of Chevron's lawyers from corporate law behemoth Gibson Dunn. Also present was a lawyer for the plaintiffs, Andrew Wilson.

After several hours, Ms. Neuman wrapped up her deposition, and Mr. Wilson indicated that he would like to cross-examine Mr. Powers for a few minutes, a standard practice. At which point, apparently, Ms. Neumann and her Gibson Dunn colleagues FREAKED OUT.

First, Ms. Neuman said the office was closing. Then a colleague said they hadn't been notified of the lawyer's intention to question Mr. Powers, which the plaintiffs called "remarkable" since it's standard for depositions to conclude with a cross-examination. Then they said the cameraman shooting video of the deposition had to pack up. Finally, they claimed "we literally have to leave the building."

But as the plaintiffs recount in their Sept. 28th legal filing:

"Mr. Wilson insisted on fifteen minutes of cross-examination, during which the building did not shut down, the office did not close, the cameraman did not have to pack up, and no one had to leave the building."

At which point, Mr. Powers, a leading authority on oil field contamination, simply answered some questions, revealing the devastating truth about Chevron's legacy in Ecuador that the company has tried so hard to conceal.

Photo by Lou Dematteis, from the book Crude Reflections.

More from the legal filing:

Q:  Now, when Chevron-Texaco designed its pits in the Ecuadorian Amazon, what design did it use? 

Powers: Dug a hole in the dirt and deposited the drilling muds in the unlined hole.

Q: And if Chevron-Texaco was designing those pits in the United States, would it have been able to dig a pit in the – and put in the drilling muds as you described?

Powers: No.

Q: What's the consequence of Chevron's design of its pits in the Lago Agrio concession?

Powers: Two consequences: the leeching of the chemicals into the ground, and ultimately into the ground water; and the overflow of the pits due to lack of maintenance and rain water and overflowing directly into the drainage channels surrounding that pit.

Q: And what's the basis for your conclusions concerning the Chevron-Texaco's pits?

Powers: Having viewed the pits and reviewed the nature of how those pits were designed, utilized, and the fact that – it is uncontested that the pits were left with drilling mud in them.

Q: And when Chevron developed the oil field in Ecuador, did it do so in conformity with standards for treatment of production water that were in place in the United States at the time that it was building its infrastructure in Ecuador?

Powers: No.

Q: Can you describe the ways in which Chevron's Ecuadorian concession fell below standards it would have been required to meet if that field were in the United States?

Powers: Based on the salinity and the produced water from the field, the company would have been required to reinject that water into a subsurface formation.  Could not have operated that oil field or produced a single barrel of oil without having that produced water injection system operational.

Q: By failing to reinject production water in the Lago Agrio concession, what impact did that have on the environment in Lago Agrio?

Powers: It contaminated the surface water at the points where it was injected, not only with the high salinity of the produced water in an environment that has almost no natural salinity, but the trace contaminants of heavy metals and oil also contributed to the generalized contamination of that surface water.

Q: If you include the produced water in your comparison between the discharge into the environment from Chevron's Lago Agrio concession, when you compare that to the Exxon-Valdez oil discharge from that catastrophe, how would you compare them?

Powers:  Both the produced water and the crude oil are toxic. The – you can argue about the relative toxicity of them both. But the amount of toxic liquids that should not have been in the environment in Ecuador was at least 30 times the quantity or the volume of crude that was spilled in the Exxon-Valdez disaster.

– Han

Han Shan is coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Essential New Web Portal Gathers Info on Human Rights Impacts of Oil Pollution

Well, Rainforest Action Network's Change Chevron team beat me to it, but I was planning on posting today about "a new online information portal regarding 'Human rights impacts of oil pollution: U.S. Gulf Coast, Ecuador, Nigeria,'" as the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre announced in a press release [PDF].

Explaining the reason for the comprehensive portal, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre Director Christopher Avery said:

“Massive oil spills create human rights disasters as well as environmental catastrophes. As media coverage of the Gulf spill subsides, and people in the Niger Delta and eastern Ecuador continue to live in the midst of decades of oil pollution, we decided the time was right to create a platform that keeps an ongoing focus on the human rights impacts.”

An account written by BBC producer Rebecca John in 2005, while shooting a story with the Quichua (or Kichwa) people called 'The Curse of Oil,' is highlighted in the press release. It is one of the stories collected in the exhaustive Ecuador section of the portal:

“We had absolutely no idea what was going to happen the day we filmed with the Quichuar people in Ecuador...They were angry with the oil companies for polluting their lands and ruining their lives. After they showed us around, we could see why. Several large pits full of oil and toxic waste are scattered throughout their land. They told us that toxic substances from these pits regularly flow into their water supply and have also polluted the food chain, which the Quichuar rely on for their survival. All this has made them sick, they said, and very, very angry. After standing next to one of the pits for a short while I began to feel dizzy. The smell was overpowering and my stomach churned...What it must be like to live there, with the fear of contamination ever-present, I can't even begin to imagine.”

A local Ecuadorian displays crude oil and sludge in a toxic waste pit abandoned by Chevron at the 'Aguarico 4' oil well site in northeastern Ecuador. Photo by Caroline Bennett.

While almost all of the material has simply been collected from other sources, it has been exhaustively researched, is well-organized, and pulls together materials in helpful sections that allow for one to investigate important aspects of the issue.

For instance, you can peruse the section entitled, 'Recent articles comparing Ecuador situation with the Gulf response and coverage' or study 'Alleged impacts on cultural way of life of indigenous communities.'

Sections such as 'Assessing responsibility of Chevron/Texaco versus Petroecuador,' do provide a significant platform for Chevron's position, which would be more welcome if it were more consistent and honest, but I won't argue that point here. Of course, the Ecuador section is also filled with materials representing the efforts of Amazon Watch and the Clean Up Ecuador Campaign, as well as our allies, and of course, the affected communities who have been organizing to demand justice for so long.

While I haven't had a chance to explore it fully, a brief visit convinced me the portal will be a useful tool for anyone who wants to understand and compare the impact of oil pollution on front-line communities from the Gulf Coast to Ecuador's Rainforest to the Niger River Delta.

And while the Ecuador section is fascinating to peruse, it is also filled with horror stories and heartbreak. Thanks to the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre for this resource–– may we one day be able to add a section about the historic victory that finally achieved a cleanup in the Amazon, and restitution for the damage done.

– Han

Han Shan is the Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chevron throws book at shareholder activist... I mean, shareholder activists

UPDATE [~6 hrs after I published the post below]:
The Wall Street Journal has picked up the story, though under a headline with a very different tone: 'Activist Faces Charges in Chevron Meeting Outburst.' At the same time, MarketWatch has a new, longer version of the story up that still omits the fact that Chevron barred 20 valid proxy holders, but does in fact note the arrest of four critics in addition to Juhasz.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

A must-read story was published today with the headline, 'Chevron throws book at shareholder activist.' The article, which appears on the Dow Jones affiliate MarketWatch.com, asks the question – as reporter John Letzing puts it in the subtitle – Are criminal charges the best way to deal with a meeting disruption?

As the article explains, outspoken Chevron critic and oil industry expert Antonia Juhasz was arrested at Chevron'a annual shareholder meeting in Houston, last May:

After causing a scene by blasting Chevron’s environmental record and starting a derisive chant, Antonia Juhasz was plucked from the audience and arrested. The meeting wrapped shortly afterward. She now faces up to six months in jail.
The article continues:
“This is very, very unusual,” says Sanjai Bhagat, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Leeds School of Business. “I’m a little puzzled as to why management would take such unusually strong steps.”
The professor goes on:
“The severity of this response is going to be counterproductive,” according to Bhagat. “At the next meeting you’ll have even more activists.”

Appearing in a Wall Street Journal-affiliated business news outlet, it's a relatively balanced article, though the reporter does focus on how the action "raises questions about the best way for firms to deal with activists..." rather than the legality of Chevron's actions, or the trend of public companies increasingly limiting discussion and debate at its shareholder meetings.

Most unfortunate though is that the reporter fails to mention that Chevron had four other people arrested that day, and barred nearly twenty other concerned community leaders from the meeting. Each of those people came as legal proxies for Chevron shareholders large and small. In an effort to silence critics, Chevron management systematically denied entry to more than a dozen people negatively affected by Chevron's operations in their communities in places like Ecuador, Nigeria, Burma, and the Philippines.

Amazon Watch's Mitch Anderson (L) and Han Shan (R) under arrest outside Chevron's Houston headquarters, before being taken to Houston City Jail.

The four other people arrested in addition to Antonia included Amazon Watch corporate campaigns director Mitch Anderson (a shareholder) and myself (coordinator of the Clean Up Ecuador campaign) alongside environmental justice leaders Juan Parras of Houston and Rev. Ken Davis from Richmond, California. After being unjustly denied entry to the meeting, the four of us refused to leave, before being taken into custody at the direction of Chevron security personnel.

As the article notes, there is a court hearing in Houston on Thursday at which a trial date will be set.

While it's at the very least disheartening to be facing prison time for showing up to a meeting at which I had every right to be, my plight stands in stark relief to friends I have made in the Ecuadorian Amazon whose lives and communities have been devastated by this arrogant American company.

And we refuse to be silenced by Chevron's ongoing campaign of character assassination and intimidation.

Indigenous Kichwa leader Guillermo Grefa (L) from Ecuador, and Debora Barros Fince (R), an Indigenous Waayu leader from Colombia, sit outside Chevron's shareholders meeting after being denied access even though they both held legal proxies.

*Note: go read the entire article, and if you like, leave a comment. Say what you please but while I noted omissions in the article above, I'm by no means suggesting you slam the piece, which at least highlights the kind of tactics Chevron employs against its critics.

– Han

Han Shan is the Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Experts Say 10,000 May Die in Ecuador Due to Chevron's Pollution

Over the weekend, Rainforest Action Network's Nick Magel published a must-read article on CommonDreams.org about the final damages assessment that the Ecuadorian communities suing Chevron submitted to the Lago Agrio court last Thursday. The article highlights the most shocking revelation from the analysis completed for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs by a team of eminent scientists and doctors; that without immediate and drastic action, Chevron's toxic contamination could kill thousands more men, women, and children in Ecuador's Amazon rainforest.

Magel writes:

Shockwaves rippled through the world's largest environmental lawsuit on Friday, as a new damages assessment was submitted in the lawsuit between 30,000 Indigenous peoples and local farmers against the global oil giant Chevron. The damages assessment finds that because of factors still persisting in the Ecuadorean rainforest from Chevron's pollution, nearly 10,000 Ecuadoreans are at significant risk of dying from cancer by the year 2080. The technical and medical experts who authored the assessment claim that the conditions that remain from Chevron's systemic pollution in the Amazon will continue to cause cancer, birth defects, and other ailments for decades.

"The information in this submission is highly significant because it reflects clearly that there is a terrible oil-related disaster in Ecuador in the area where Chevron operated," said Pablo Fajardo, lead lawyer for the Ecuadorian communities suing Chevron. 

The new assessment also placed damages to Ecuadorian communities at $40-90 billion rather than the court's original $27.3 billion. The increase in damages is due to Chevron's "unjust enrichment." Unjust enrichment is essentially money saved by using sub-standard drilling practices. Simply, Chevron cut corners and communities paid the price, a very high price.

Fajardo was clear about Chevron's human impact in the region. "What these analyses make chillingly clear is that thousands of Ecuadorian citizens may well contract and die of cancer in the coming decades because of Chevron's contamination."

Read the rest of the article at Common Dreams.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Press Release: Chevron Faces Tens of Billions in Clean-up Costs; Potential Death Toll Put at 10,000 in Ecuador Rainforest

17 September 2010 – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at 703-798-3109 or Karen@hintoncommunications.com

Chevron Faces Tens of Billions in Clean-up Costs; Potential Death Toll Put at 10,000 in Ecuador Rainforest

Top American Technical Experts Weigh In On High-Profile Damages Case

Lago Agrio, Ecuador (September 17) – A group of highly respected American technical and medical experts, using conservative assumptions, have concluded that it could cost Chevron up to tens of billions of dollars to clean up oil waste discharged into Ecuador’s rainforest and compensate local communities for the damage it caused over the 26 years it operated a large oil concession, according to valuation assessments submitted Thursday to the Ecuador trial court.

View a Summary of the Analysis of Damages here.

Relying on official Ecuador census and mortality data, as well as relevant studies, the analysis finds that what is believed to be the world’s largest oil-related catastrophe likely will cause nearly 10,000 Ecuadorians to be at significant risk of dying from cancer by the year 2080 even if Chevron cleans up in the next ten years. The numbers could rise substantially if no remediation takes place.

The assessments analyzed numerous categories of damages, including soil and groundwater contamination, drinking water, excess cancer deaths, natural resources damage, and health costs. While the high end of the damages range of $113 billion is substantially greater than the $27.3 billion damages number set forth in a report in 2008 by court-appointed expert Richard Cabrera, some categories of damages were found to be lower than those estimated in that report.

For example, the combined cost of clean-up for soil and groundwater contamination in the new analysis – which relied mostly on Chevron’s own internal environmental audits -- at the high end of the range was roughly $1.8 billion, compared to more than the $5 billion estimate in the earlier Cabrera report. The analysis found the existence of other categories of contamination, such as oil sediment in rivers, but they could not be accurately quantified.
The differences in the soil and groundwater remediation numbers is largely a function of the fact the new analyses used far more conservative assumptions than the Cabrera report.  For example, the Cabrera report concluded soil should be cleaned to a depth of five meters, while the recent analysis assumed only four meters.  

A large portion of the damages in the new analyses can be attributed to Chevron’s “unjust enrichment” – money saved by using sub-standard drilling practices – and compensation for potential excess cancer deaths that have a significant chance of occurring in coming decades due to exposure to cancer-causing crude oil.  Most of the damages in the Cabrera report were from the same two categories. 

“The new valuation analyses are different, in many ways, than the damage assessment report from 2008 but both present reasonable and sound assessments based on the evidence,” said Pablo Fajardo, the lead lawyer for the Amazonian communities suing the oil giant.  

“The Ecuador court has more than enough evidence and expert analyses to determine the cost of remediating the extensive oil pollution that has devastated thousands in the region for decades,” Fajardo added.  “There are more than 100 different expert reports in evidence, dozens of them produced by Chevron, which overwhelmingly demonstrate extensive contamination at all of Chevron’s former oil production facilities.” 

The new damages analyses came in a supplemental report submitted by lawyers for the dozens of Amazon communities suing Chevron for what is believed to be the world’s worst oil-related disaster – larger than the size of the BP Gulf spill.  Unlike the BP Gulf spill, the Ecuador disaster has been contaminating the rainforest ecosystem for almost 50 years. 

Ecuadorian law provides that the court can consider the supplemental information when reaching a decision, but under Ecuadorian law the judge is under no obligation to adopt the estimates.  Chevron, which has attacked the credibility of Cabrera’s damages assessment, had the opportunity to submit its own valuations analysis but the company previously indicated it would boycott the process. 

Lawyers for the affected communities have asserted Chevron has been trying to sabotage the Ecuador trial by bombarding the court with frivolous motions and boycotting any part of the case that addresses damages.  The indigenous and farmer communities first filed the lawsuit in 1993 in U.S. federal court, but it was shifted to Ecuador at Chevron’s request. 

“The information in this submission is highly significant because it reflects clearly that there is a terrible oil-related disaster in Ecuador in the area where Chevron operated,” said Fajardo.

“What these analyses make chillingly clear is that thousands of Ecuadorian citizens may well contract and die of cancer in the coming decades because of Chevron’s contamination,” he added.  

The analyses, based largely on technical information found in the 200,000-page trial record and relevant studies, found the following damages: 

  • Soil Remediation: A conservative estimate of potential costs to remediate contaminated soils at all of Chevron’s 378 former oil production facilities in Ecuador ranges from $487 million to $949 million depending on the clean-up standard used.  The actual cost could be significantly higher.

  • Groundwater Remediation:  Based on data in the trial record, the range for clean-up of groundwater is $396 million to $911 million.

  • Rivers and wetlands:  Data indicates that sediment contamination exists, but no clean-up number was presented pending further investigation.

  • Health Care: Using recent data from the World Health Organization and the Ecuadorian Ministry of Health, an estimated $1.4 billion will be needed to provide health care to the thousands of affected persons over the next three decades.

  • Drinking Water: Degradation of the environment with petroleum hydrocarbons associated with Chevron’s production activities has been documented at numerous locations.  The cost of a comprehensive series of regional water systems is estimated to be between approximately $326 million to $541 million.

  • Excess Cancer Deaths: Actuarial life-table methodology demonstrates that the aggregate cost of excess cancer deaths due to exposure to oil contamination in the area where Chevron operated could be approximately $69.7 billion. This is the based on the value of a statistical life used by averaging relevant data used in the U.S. court system and by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ($7 million for each lost life), and comparing it with official Ecuador mortality data and census information.  Up to 9,950 people in the affected area will face a significant risk of dying from cancer in the coming decades even if the area is remediated in the next ten years.

    Even if the analysis stops in 1990 – the year when Chevron ceased being the operator of the oil fields – the aggregate cost of excess cancer deaths is still estimated at $12.1 billion based on 1,732 deaths from cancer. (The earlier Cabrera report estimated 1,401 deaths from cancer, but he did not project future deaths.)

  • Natural Resources Losses:  This estimate is based on the evidence that concentrations of petroleum hydrocarbons and harmful metals in soil, groundwater, and surface water have exceeded levels considered to be toxic to terrestrial and aquatic biota. While determining the exact values of service losses in the rainforest with precision is not possible, it is not clear that further studies would produce a range of plausible values different from the range posited earlier by Mr. Cabrera – approximately $874 million to $1.7 billion, depending on the methodology employed.

  • Unjust Enrichment:  Chevron’s unjust enrichment ranges from $4.57 billion to $9.46 billion assuming a 100% probability of detection and ultimate payment, and from $18.26 billion to $37.86 billion assuming a 25% probability of detection and ultimate payment.  Given the evidence of Chevron’s malfeasance in Ecuador, the plaintiffs assume the company had at best a 25% probability of detection and ultimate payment, and therefore the unjust enrichment award should at minimum range from $18.26 billion to $37.86 billion. This is a conservative figure, as in reality it is highly unlikely that Chevron believed it had more than a 10% probability of detection and ultimate payment.

  • Cultural Impacts on Indigenous Groups: Representatives of the Amazonian communities, noting the acute interdependence between indigenous groups and the rainforest ecosystem, analyzed the impact of hydrocarbon contamination on indigenous culture.  The team reviewed economic valuations to repair the loss of cultural and ancestral practices, including a program to purchase unspoiled land, and to construct pools of native fishes and centers to restore flora and fauna.  The cost for this restoration is estimated at $481.5 million.
The analyses were submitted by the following scientists and technical experts: 

  • Douglas Allen, who has 25 years of experience as an environmental consultant working in soil and groundwater remediation;

  • Dr. Lawrence Barnthouse, one of the nation’s leaders in ecological risk assessment and a Fellow at the American Association for the Advancement of Science;

  • Carlos Emilio Picone, a medical doctor certified in critical care medicine and Chief of the Pulmonary Section at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C.;

  • Jonathan S. Shefftz, a financial economist from Harvard who has performed economic modeling on theories of unjust enrichment for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy;

  • Dr. Daniel L. Rourke, who has extensive experience applying advanced statistical techniques to solve complex litigation problems; and

  • Dr. Robert Paolo Scardina, a civil and environmental engineer and member of the faculty at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute.


    The analyses in both English and Spanish, as well as background information on the scientists, can be found at www.chevrontoxico.com.

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