“The stream was 50 meters from our house and chemicals were dumped into it. Oh, it stank! The water ran like a natural stream, but it was warm toxic waste water. We had headaches, dizziness, stomachaches.... Our children loved to fish and swim in the river. They came home covered in crude. We fried the fish they caught and the fish tasted like diesel.” - Shuar indigenous man living near Texaco Auca oil field
One of the primary sources of contamination from Texaco's operations is so-called produced water. While operating in Ecuador, Texaco dumped 18 billion gallons of this toxic wastewater directly into surface streams and rivers. The crude oil contained in these production byproducts is more than 30 times greater than the entire volume of crude spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster.
Produced water, sometimes called "formation water," is brackish water from within an underground oil formation that is pumped to the surface along with crude oil. Although the water can then be separated from oil by technological means, this separation is never perfect, and so produced water frequently contains petroleum as well as a number of toxic heavy metals. Produced water is also salty, often much saltier than seawater, and is extremely hot, rendering it harmful to aquatic life. For these reasons, it is standard practice in the oil industry to reinject produced water into underground wells where it cannot contaminate surface streams or groundwater.
Produced water has long been recognized as toxic, and its dumping was banned in many US states by the time Texaco operated in Ecuador, including laws in Louisiana in 1942 and Texas in 1967. Reinjection was already the industry standard by the 1970s. Texaco, in fact, obtained patents in 1971 and 1974 on state-of-the-art reinjection technology, demonstrating that it was no stranger to the concept. Yet in Ecuador, the company chose to simply dump toxic water into surface streams to save money.
When Texaco began dumping produced water, local people who depend on the rivers for bathing, drinking, and cooking began reporting skin rashes and other ailments. Furthermore, many fish have disappeared from the rivers around the oil concession area. This has contributed to dire poverty among indigenous Ecuadorians who used to depend on fish as a major source of nutrition.