Friday, January 23, 2009

Film Documenting Chevron’s Toxic Legacy in Ecuador Gaining Momentum

Crude, the documentary at the Sundance film festival we blogged about earlier this week seems to be getting some huge momentum. Over the past week we've seen a ton of stories come across our computer about the film, the outpouring of celebrity support for the film and for the people who are suffering from Chevron's pollution. There just seems to be a ton of buzz around the film – the NY Times, Page 6, US Weekly, People, the Associated Press, FoxNews, and other news outlets all wrote about the film. And now that I've seen the film, we've can understand why. While the movie is remarkably even-handed in its portrayal of the issue, the film does the one thing Chevron has tried to stop more than anything else: it simply shows the facts. And even though the film goes to great lengths to be unbiased, it'll be incredibly difficult for anyone to walk away from a screening of the film feeling anything but disgust for Chevron.

Lucy Danziger, editor of Self Magazine, blogged about their magazine's sponsorship of a party honoring the film. An excerpt:

Here is why I was in Park City: to host a dinner in honor of Trudie Styler, who is championing the cause of a little known but disastrous oil spill in Ecuador that needs to be cleaned up. Chevron, the company at the center of the dispute, has not stepped up to take the lead. The spill occurred a generation ago, when Texaco was the dumper, but Chevron owns the former company and isn't willing to pay to clean up the mess.

Meanwhile, the people of Ecuador are getting sick, developing rare cancers at alarming rates, and the water supply is so tainted that Styler is trying to bring in rain-collecting systems and installing them throughout the villages in order to give the women, children and families an alternative to the tainted water supply. UNICEF first got her involved, and she not only visited the spill site and was in the center of the documentary Crude (it's directed by the talented Joe Berlinger and produced by Entendre films and Netflix), but she also has helped to get 60 schools built and offered educational resources to More than 700 children who, when she first visited the region, worked in toxic-waste dumps.

To read more, check out:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Chevron’s Amazon Disaster Lands at Sundance; "Crude" - Press Kit Attached

Apparently a new documentary – appropriately entitled "Crude" - from Emmy-award winning filmmaker Joe Berlinger highlighting the legal battle to hold Chevron accountable is premiering at the famous Sundance film festival today. The film has generated some significant buzz – I saw articles mentioning it in the New York Times and the Boston Globe, among other news outlets. From the film's Sundance page:

Filmmaker Joe Berlinger's latest documentary picks up the thread of the infamous ""Amazon Chernobyl"" case, a 13-year-old battle between communities nearly destroyed by oil drilling and development and one of the biggest companies on earth. In a sophisticated take on the classic David and Goliath story, Berlinger took three years to craft a cinema vérité portrait centering on the charismatic lawyers in the U.S. and Ecuador who have doggedly pursued the case against all of the forces a corporation can bring into courts of law.

We managed to get our hands on one of the press kits about this "David and Goliath" story that are floating around the festival. The press kit has some good stuff about the subject matter of the film – including a press release from which I borrowed the title for this post. The press packet is attached below - take a look.

Press Kit Cover Page
Sundance/Crude Press Release
Q&A about the Case
Letter from Congressman Jim McGovern
Associated Press story on the Case
Bios of the Lawyers featured in "Crude"
Entire Press Kit - .rar file

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Chevron Wins Dubious Honor: Named to “10 Worst Corporations of 2008”

According to MoneyWeb, as 2008 ushered in a financial tsunami that became the biggest economic shakedown since the Great Depression, wide scale corporate corruption was forced out into the open witnessing a slew of business scandals.

AIG, Cargill, Chevron, Constellation Energy, CNPC, Dole, General Electric, Imperial Sugar, Philip Morris International and Roche top the list as the worst of the worst according to Multinational Monitor's annual list of the ten most terrible companies of the year.

"In the 20 years that we've published our annual list of worst corporations," says Robert Weissman, editor of the bi-monthly global economic publication. "We've covered corporate villains, scoundrels, criminals and miscreants. But we've never had a year like 2008."

"The financial meltdown and economic crisis," says Weissman, "illustrates that corporations - if left to their own worst instincts - will destroy themselves and the system that nurtures them."

The Multinational Monitor writes about Chevron:

Chevron: "We can't let little countries screw around with big companies"

The world has witnessed a stunning consolidation of the multinational oil companies over the last decade.

One of the big winners was Chevron. It swallowed up Texaco and Unocal, among others. It was happy to absorb their revenue streams. It has been less willing to take responsibility for ecological and human rights abuses perpetrated by these companies.

One of the inherited legacies from Chevron's 2001 acquisition of Texaco is litigation in Ecuador over the company's alleged decimation of the Ecuadorian Amazon over a 20-year period of operation. In 1993, 30,000 indigenous Ecuadorians filed a class action suit in U.S. courts, alleging that Texaco had poisoned the land where they live and the waterways on which they rely, allowing billions of gallons of oil to spill and leaving hundreds of waste pits unlined and uncovered. They sought billions in compensation for the harm to their land and livelihood, and for alleged health harms. The Ecuadorians and their lawyers filed the case in U.S. courts because U.S. courts have more capacity to handle complex litigation, and procedures (including jury trials) that offer plaintiffs a better chance to challenge big corporations. Texaco, and later Chevron, deployed massive legal resources to defeat the lawsuit. Ultimately, a Chevron legal maneuver prevailed: At Chevron's instigation, U.S. courts held that the case should be litigated in Ecuador, closer to where the alleged harms occurred.

Having argued vociferously that Ecuadorian courts were fair and impartial, Chevron is now unhappy with how the litigation has proceeded in that country. So unhappy, in fact, that it is lobbying the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to impose trade sanctions on Ecuador if the Ecuadorian government does not make the case go away.

"We can't let little countries screw around with big companies like this — companies that have made big investments around the world," a Chevron lobbyist said to Newsweek in August. (Chevron subsequently stated that "the comments attributed to an unnamed lobbyist working for Chevron do not reflect our company's views regarding the Ecuador case. They were not approved by the company and will not be tolerated.")

Chevron is worried because a court-appointed special master found in March that the company was liable to plaintiffs for between $7 billion and $16 billion. The special master has made other findings that Chevron's clean-up operations in Ecuador have been inadequate.

Another of Chevron's inherited legacies is the Yadana natural gas pipeline in Burma, operated by a consortium in which Unocal was one of the lead partners. Human rights organizations have documented that the Yadana pipeline was constructed with forced labor, and associated with brutal human rights abuses by the Burmese military.

EarthRights International, a human rights group with offices in Washington, D.C. and Bangkok, has carefully tracked human rights abuses connected to the Yadana pipeline, and led a successful lawsuit against Unocal/Chevron. In an April 2008 report, the group states that "Chevron and its consortium partners continue to rely on the Burmese army for pipeline security, and those forces continue to conscript thousands of villagers for forced labor, and to commit torture, rape, murder and other serious abuses in the course of their operations."

Money from the Yadana pipeline plays a crucial role in enabling the Burmese junta to maintain its grip on power. EarthRights International estimates the pipeline funneled roughly $1 billion to the military regime in 2007. The group also notes that, in late 2007, when the Burmese military violently suppressed political protests led by Buddhist monks, Chevron sat idly by.

Chevron has trouble in the United States, as well. In September, Earl Devaney, the inspector general for the Department of Interior, released an explosive report documenting "a culture of ethical failure" and a "culture of substance abuse and promiscuity" in the U.S. government program handling oil lease contracts on U.S. government lands and property. Government employees, Devaney found, accepted a stream of small gifts and favors from oil company representatives, and maintained sexual relations with them. (In one memorable passage, the inspector general report states that "sexual relationships with prohibited sources cannot, by definition, be arms-length.") The report showed that Chevron had conferred the largest number of gifts on federal employees. It also complained that Chevron refused to cooperate with the investigation, a claim Chevron subsequently disputed.

Looks like we're not the only ones keeping an eye on Chevron's behavior around the world…

Monday, January 5, 2009

Science Doesn’t Lie. Or Does It?

Katie Bezrouch over at Imagine 2050 hit on an interesting thread last week: Chevron has apparently commissioned "scientific studies" to create findings supporting their analysis that there has been no harm to the Ecuador region that the company devastated. The catch is that these studies are apparently funded by the big oil company and are done by a company that shares a member of its board of directors with Chevron. Not exactly independent research. Bezrouch writes:

"According to Judith Kimerling (2007 recipient of the Parker Gentry Award for Conservation Biology), "…from 1972 until it left Ecuador in 1992, Texaco intentionally dumped more than 19 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into the region and was responsible for 16.8 million gallons of crude oil spilling from the main pipeline into the forest." This pollution has caused massive amounts of eco-degradation and human health problems. There has been increased cancer rates in oil producing villages and higher miscarriage rates. The International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health attributes this to living in the proximity of a contaminated water source, and it just so happens that the streams in the region contain more than 280 times more oil chemicals than European communities would allow.

But Chevron has a different perspective. Their analysis of Ecuador data reveals no increased cancer levels in the oil region. They fabricated this information by funding a study of their own called "Cancer Mortality and Oil Production in the Amazon Region of Ecuador, 1990-2005," key word being "funding". The study was conducted by three scientists at a consulting firm called Exponent. When I went to the their website and found that the veteran member of the Exponent Board of Directors (Samuel H. Armacost) is also a board member of the Chevron Corporation, I couldn't help myself from laughing out loud.

Anyone with a critical eye should be able to see right through Chevron's junk science. An independent court-appointed expert found that 100% of Chevron's former well sites are contaminated with illegal levels of Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons. Most all of the samples contain well known carcinogens, or, cancer causing agents.

Makes you wonder exactly how reliable that data is.