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