By George Avalos, Contra Costa Times
29 May 2013
San Ramon, CA – During a contentious annual meeting in San Ramon on Wednesday, Chevron executives touted the company's $26 billion in annual profits and robust production efforts, but skeptics peppered management with pointed questions about company's environmental practices.
"We had a very strong year," Chevron's chief executive officer, John Watson, said during a question and answer session following the annual shareholders gathering.
And Chevron's Richmond refinery, which recently resumed operations after its main crude oil unit was knocked out by a fire last August, is approaching full refining capacity, Watson said during the question session with reporters after the annual meeting.
Much of the shareholders meeting focused on Chevron's environmental, legal, civic and refining and exploration practices. In recent years, Chevron has come under criticism in connection with contamination of the rain forest in Ecuador and an oil leak in the ocean off Brazil.
Speakers and company executives directed considerable attention to the litigation arising from pollution in the Amazon jungles of Ecuador linked to operations of Texaco, which Chevron later acquired.
"I am a living witness to the crimes in Ecuador," Servio Curipoma, a resident of the South American nation, speaking through a translator, said during the meeting. "We will continue to fight until Chevron pays us for the damage they have done." Curipoma claimed his parents died of cancer due to the oil spills in the jungle.
In 2011, plaintiffs won a $19 billion environmental damages award against Chevron, which has hotly contested the decision and counterattacked aggressively.
"The litigation was a fraud and a fabrication from the beginning," Watson said during the annual meeting.
Chevron contends the claims against it have begun to systematically unravel as it uncovers more facts in the case.
At one point during the meeting, the question and answer session grew so heated that Atossa Soltani, founder of Amazon Watch, shouted repeatedly at Watson and other Chevron executives.
Chevron security guards escorted Soltani from the meeting because of her outburst.
Outside the meeting, dozens of protestors demonstrated along the approaches to the company's headquarters. "Free America from the tyranny of oil," "Fire Watson" and "Chevron makes orphans" were among the signs the protestors brandished.
Chevron responded that it has improved safety for workers and the environment. The company stated its days away from work are at the best in the industry and its spill incidents are at a 10-year low. Chevron also cited a 2012 survey of 1,258 analysts that determined Watson is the best CEO in the United States and Chief Financial Officer Patricia Yarrington is the best CFO.
The company repaired the crude oil unit that was knocked out by the August 2012 fire and replaced pipes in the refinery associated with the unit's operations.
"Richmond is a safe refinery," Watson said. "The changes we have made will make it even safer."