“We bought this farm which is surrounded by two [Texaco] open waste pits. So many animals fell in: chickens, dogs, watusas, rabbits. We pulled them out and cleaned them, but they were covered with sludge, and died anyway.” –Woman from San Carlos, who died of uterine cancer in 2006
Texaco constructed hundreds of unlined, earthen waste pits for its oil operations in Ecuador. These pits allow toxic waste to leach into surrounding soil, and they overflow in heavy rainstorms, sending oil into rivers. For this reason, US states have laws requiring that pits have impermeable liners (for example, concrete). Louisiana and Texas, two major oil-producing states, passed such laws in the 1930s.
Texaco's waste pits have contaminated groundwater, affecting local residents' wells. Overflowing oil is carried into the region's rivers. Animals die by stumbling into pits or otherwise coming into contact with crude oil and oil wastes. Many of these pits were built in close proximity to inhabited areas. Simply standing near a waste pit, it is possible to inhale vapors which include toxic gases.
To worsen matters, most of the pits that have been abandoned in the region have not been cleaned up. Texaco claimed that it was only responsible for remediating 37.5% of the waste pits in the mid-1990s when it left Ecuador. Even if one accepts this conclusion, it is clear that the pits Texaco claimed to "remediate" were not in fact cleaned up. Most often, the company simply shoveled dirt over the top, planted grass, and left the oil buried rather than removed. Chevron now claims that the oil is in a "degraded state" and cannot leach out or harm anyone, but oil continues to ooze to the surface of closed pits, and has sickened animals as well as people. Some residents have even built their houses on top of these toxic waste pits, having been told they were clean.
As one observer noted, "You can go to every pit that was allegedly remediated, put a stick through the topsoil, and oil comes out. On some sites they planted grass with short roots and it looks beautiful, but if you look at the trees surrounding the pits they're all dead. Why? Because their roots are swimming in oil."
As with its handling of produced water, 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 letter that "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."