As oil companies eye petroleum deposits in the pristine Ecuadorian rain forest, some people are calling attention to problems the industry has caused in this region in the past — and the still-unresolved struggle for justice.
The issue surfaced most recently at a Chevron shareholders’ meeting, where an Ecuadorian community member questioned the oil giant’s mishandling of spills left behind from decades of unregulated drilling in the Amazon.
“My parents both died from cancer due to Chevron’s contamination,” Servio Curipoma said to CEO John Watson. “I am still fighting for justice so that no one else will have to suffer the pain they did, and the loss I have. Chevron has lied to its shareholders, to the world, to me. I’m here on behalf of all of us to say that CEO (John) Watson should be fired.”
Texaco, purchased by Chevron in 2001, moved into the region in the 1960s, carrying out an unregulated oil extraction program that left behind 1,000 toxic waste pits and more than 350 wells, according to Amazon Watch.
At the peak of the oil boom, Texaco was allegedly dumping 4 million gallons of formation waters, or contaminated waters from the drilling process, each day, according to the Campaign for Justice in Ecuador. The practice was banned in the U.S. at the time Texaco was drilling in Ecuador.
Now, Ecuadorians are bracing for another invasion from the oil industry — and this time they’re not prepared to sit back and allow it to happen.
The Ecuadorian government has opened up 10 million acres of rainforest land to oil companies, a larger-than-life bid known as the XL Oil Round that has Native Ecuadorians living in the heart of the jungle prepared to take up violence to halt tankers from destroying their habitat.
The weapons of those living deep within the Amazon are no match for the oil industry. A recent NBC report illustrated the weaponry, which in Western eyes would be considered primitive. And while those living in the rainforest understand this is a fight they could lose, they’re willing to die for the cause — because without the forest, their way of life will cease to exist.
“As long as I am alive, I am going to fight for my community,” a tribal leader told NBC News.
A dirty lawsuit
In 1993, Texaco was met with a lawsuit by the indigenous people of Ecuador, who claimed the company was directly responsible for polluting and abandoning the land they called home.
In 2011, the plaintiffs celebrated a $19 billion victory, but they have yet to see compensation — and they continue to suffer from the consequences.
Instead, Chevron has claimed the ruling, filed in South America, is not valid because it was based on “tainted evidence.” The allegations come after the environmental consultant hired by the plaintiffs claimed it unknowingly relied on tainted evidence to win the $19 billion settlement.
The New York Times referred to the claims by Stratus Consulting as a “bizarre twist” in the Chevron lawsuit. Seemingly out of nowhere, the Boulder, Colo., consulting firm claimed it had been misled by the lead lawyer representing the indigenous plaintiffs.
“Stratus deeply regrets its involvement in the Ecuador litigation,” the firm told the New York Times.
In response to the sudden turn on the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, those advocating for the rights of the indigenous population are claiming Chevron is up to no good.
“Chevron is deploying at least 2,000 lawyers and legal professionals from more than 60 law firms — including 114 lawyers from the single U.S. firm of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher — in an attempt to deny a fair trial to Ecuadorian villagers in New York as the oil giant furiously tries to contain the growing international fallout from its $19 billion Ecuador environmental liability, according to recent court filings in New York,” an Amazon Watch press release states.
Other plaintiffs accused Chevron of filing the racketeering case against Stratus Consulting as a move to pressure the company to retract its information provided in the landmark case.
Craig Smyser, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told the New York Times that Stratus’ decision to recant its work was likely due to “immense financial strain that threatened the financial extinction of the firm, including a campaign by Chevron to discredit Stratus with various government agencies and businesses with which Stratus worked.”
After Stratus admitted to relying on faulty information, Chevron said it is dropping its case against Stratus. Instead, it is focusing on Steven Donziger, the lead attorney in the Ecuadorian case against Chevron.
Chevron is now using witness statements from Stratus executives in its racketeering and fraud case against Donziger.
A trial is expected in October over the allegations of fraudulent activity.
“This rush to judgment, this mismatch of resources, this abuse of the civil litigation system to bulldoze a result must stop,” a letter signed by Smyser to U.S. Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, who is overseeing the New York case, said. “Let there be no mistake: this is not about delay. We look forward to a trail to a jury hearing our evidence, We ask for a fair trial, however, not a show trial.”
In the meantime, indigenous and farmer communities are filing seizure lawsuits, targeting company assets in Brazil, Argentina and Canada. In total, the seizure lawsuits are valued at $15 billion, according to Amazon Watch.
Calling Watson out on responsibility over oil spills
While now-CEO Watson wasn’t in command during the Texaco oil spill, a New York federal judge ordered that he be involved in the case, mandating that he undergo a sworn deposition in the lead-up to the October case.
Amazon Watch Executive Director Atossa Soltani confronted Watson regarding his responsibility for the Texaco spill during a question-and-answer period at the shareholder meeting.
“This marks 12 years since the shareholders meeting on the eve of Chevron’s acquisition of Texaco, when I stood before then-Chevron CEO David O’Reilly, warning him that by buying Texaco he was purchasing a multibillion-dollar liability that would end badly for the company,” Soltani said. “I hoped that Chevron would take a different path. Instead, the crisis in Ecuador has ballooned into a $19 billion guilty verdict and the company continues to evade justice. CEO Watson should be fired for his gross abuses and mismanagement.”
Amazon Watch, a main advocate of the plaintiffs, has repeatedly used the shareholders’ meeting as an avenue to confront Chevron.
At its June shareholders’ meeting, Amazon Watch was joined by other high-powered investors in the company, questioning the CEO over how long — and to what extent — the company would continue to attempt to fight the payout to the Ecuadorians.
“Just how many shareholders wish to be dragged to hell by the company’s lawyers? This shareholder certainly does not,” said Simon Billenness, who represents Investor Voice and Zevin Asset Management.
According to Watson, Chevron will fight “until hell freezes over.”