Cornered By Evidence of Catastrophe, Company Attacks Lawyers And Experts For Affected Communities
Amazon Defense Coalition
14 April 2006 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
Quito - Cornered by growing corporate governance problems and evidence that it is guilty of a massive oil contamination of the Amazon rainforest, lawyers for Chevron have invented a new round of bogus allegations as part of its ongoing "attack and distract" campaign designed to divert attention from the scientific results in a historic multi-billion dollar environmental trial.
The oil giant is embroiled in a class action lawsuit in Ecuador's Sucumbios province that accuses Texaco (now Chevron) of dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste directly into the Amazon rainforest from 1964 to 1990. The environmental impact has forced the disappearance of one indigenous group (the Tetetes) and the near extinction of two others (the Cofan and Secoya), as well as causing an array of cancers, miscarriages, and other health problems for thousands of local residents.
Experts believe Chevron created in Ecuador the worst oil-related contamination on the planet, with the amount of pure crude dumped 30 times greater than that spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster. The case is the first time that rainforest dwellers have forced a U.S. oil giant to answer charges of environmental contamination in court, with the judgment enforceable in the United States.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has been formally asked by Amazon Watch to investigate Chevron's failure to disclose its multi-billion dollar Ecuador liability in its public filings, and Ecuador's Fiscal (national prosecutor) has opened a criminal investigation of the company for having committed a possible fraud in its supposed "remediation" of oil sites in the mid-1990s.
The recent wave of attacks, launched by Chevron lawyer Adolfo Callejas and posted on Chevron's website, respond to a report submitted to the Ecuadorian court by the affected communities that demonstrated the existence of massive contamination of both soil and water at Texaco well site Sacha-13, which the company claimed to have "remediated" in the mid-1990s. Submitted by highly-respected Ecuadorian technical expert Luis Alberto Villacreces Carvajal, the report found the well site contained levels of Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons (a family of oil chemicals used as a benchmark to measure soil contamination) 14.11 times over permissible legal limits in Ecuador, the carcinogen Chromium-VI 79.45 times over the legal limit and groundwater that contained TPHs 610 times over the legal limit, Chromium 7.2 times over the limit, and the toxin Barium 6.69 times over the limit.
The results were devastating for Chevron, especially given that Ecuador laws are on average ten to 100 times more lax than similar U.S. laws and that Chevron claimed its remediation of the well site represented an absolute defense to the allegations in the lawsuit.
The Villacreces report also includes other damning evidence that Chevron cannot contest, including a 1974 Texaco Memorandum discussing contamination at Sacha-13, reports detailing Sacha-13 oil spills caused by Texaco, and evidence that two Sacha-13 pits were excluded from treatment during Texaco's "remediation" in the 1990s.
In his attack, Callejas accused lawyers for the affected communities of "obstructing justice" because Dr. Villacreces disclosed to the court administrative difficulties relating to the withdrawal of an earlier court-appointed expert, Dr. Edison Camino. Camino, originally appointed to write the report for Sacha 13 for the affected communities (each side produces its own report for each inspected site), withdrew from the process after he demanded an exorbitant payment that was refused. The court appointed Dr. Villacreces to replace him.
Dr. Villacreces, with the express written approval of the Court, relied on the scientific results from an independent laboratory that were included in Dr. Camino's draft report, which included the number and location of samples, their alpha-numeric identifications, and their precise results. This information has not been refuted by Chevron, and was gathered from soil and water samples taken during a court-supervised inspection of the site. Dr. Villacreces did not include a certified copy of the results and their "chain of custody" because Dr. Camino would not turn over the materials unless his demands were met, but Dr. Villacreces highlighted this fact in a "full disclosure" statement to the judge.
By fully disclosing the certification problems associated with his report, Dr. Villacreces more than fulfilled his professional and ethical obligations. Even in the unlikely event the Court decides to exclude his report as a result of the administrative difficulties, Chevron's own report on the site also documents significant oil-related contamination in violation of Ecuadorian law. Further, there exist dozens of fully-certified reports, submitted by experts nominated by both plaintiffs and by Chevron, which document the massive and illegal contamination found throughout the former concession area.
One of the ironies is that unlike Dr. Villacreces, Chevron has never believed in "full disclosure" in the Ecuador trial. Not only does it try to hide the contamination it caused via a sampling program based on a variety of devious methods , but it has never disclosed the number and locations of hundreds of toxic waste pits in the region that continue to threaten the health of thousands of people - pits that would easily be Superfund sites in the United States, and would require the evacuation of nearby populations.
Chevron's "attack and distract" campaign is a page out of the old tobacco industry playbook - create enough confusion about science and ethics to prevent courts from figuring out the truth amid the cacophony of noise. The oil giant should directly address the growing scientific evidence against it, adhere to corporate governance requirements, disclose its Ecuador liability to shareholders, and agree to a real clean-up that could save thousands of lives.