Thursday, February 25, 2010

Environmentalists Urge Avatar Director to Support Ecuadorians' Cause

Environmentalists across the globe are calling on Avatar director James Cameron to take up the cause of the Ecuadorians seeking justice in the largest environmental contamination case ever in the Amazon rainforest. Who knows if Cameron will agree to their requests, but it’s clear from the response that what happens in Ecuador is on the minds of Americans who care about how Chevron and other multinational companies treat indigenous people everywhere.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Texaco Throws Dirt On Oil Pit, After Couple Pleaded With Company To Clean It; Both Died Of Cancer After Living Near Pit For 22 Years

The Chevron Pit is featuring a series of personal stories about how the oil contamination left behind by Texaco has impacted the people living near the oil company’s former oil sites. Chevron purchased Texaco in 2001.

This story is about Rosana Sisalima, who passed away in 2006 from uterine cancer; her husband died of stomach cancer. Senora Sisalima gave an interview to Lou Dematteis and Kayana Szymczak for their book Crude Reflections before she died. Other stories can be found in their book and can be obtained here:

Uterine cancer victim Rosana Sisalima with her granddaughter at their home in San Carlos on November 24, 2004. Rosana succumbed to cancer in 2006.

Rosana Sisalima

San Carlos

Our house is located between a [Texaco] toxic waste pit and an oil spill. There are three [Texaco] oil wells nearby. A big oil spill had just occurred when we moved here. The oil company burned the oil and there was smoke everywhere. The former owner of this farm died of stomach cancer three years after he sold it to us.

I’ve lived here for 22 years. I came with my husband and 10 children from Loja. 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.

We pleaded with the oil company to clean the pits, and they finally showed up, only to cover the pits with dirt. But in heavy rainstorms, the pits overflow and waste runs into the streams, contaminating them.

We bathed in the river and got our drinking water there too.

We pushed the crude aside and dipped in our buckets, and we ate fish from that river. We never realized the river was contaminated.

I was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 1988. I went to Solca [the cancer hospital] and stayed there two months while they burned off the cancer until the doctor told me I was better.

My husband died of stomach cancer. He grew coffee, and worked almost until the day he died. One day he stopped eating. We went to the doctors and they operated but he had a malignant tumor and the cancer had already spread throughout his body. He was 64, so young.

I had a hysterectomy, then in 2004 gallbladder surgery. I had stomach aches, vomiting and diarrhea for over a year. I’ve been seriously ill. (Crying)

My children have helped me with medical costs. We sold our cattle, and we had to sell half of our farm, but I still don’t know how we’ll pay the rest.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Chevron Tells The Truth For A Change

Chevron does a good job dressing up its misinformation campaign about what happened in Ecuador when Texaco operated a faulty and substandard operation system to explore for oil and dumped over 18 billion gallons of toxic sludge into the rainforest from 1964 to 1990. It has three-inch binders full of background materials, colorful charts and snazzy Power Point presentations, but every now and then the truth reveals itself when Chevron least expects it. Watch Chevron’s Managing Counsel for Latin America, Ricardo Reis Veiga, present his eight-step plan for cleaning the gigantic, unlined oil pits that Texaco dug to store oil and formation water left over after drilling stopped. Texaco, which Chevron bought in 2001, said it cleaned a small number of pits, but tests taken during the Ecuadoran trial about the contamination found that those same pits have illegal levels of contamination as high or higher than pits never cleaned by Texaco.

Check out this blog:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Chevron General Counsel Hewitt Pate Stumbles as Ecuador Problem Balloons Out of Control

Hewitt Pate

As we blogged earlier, Chevron's continuing desperation to do anything it can to derail the potential $27.3 billion liability it faces for destroying part of Ecuador's rainforest has backfired yet again –this week the company again was caught misrepresenting key facts about the court-appointed expert who conducted a damages assessment not to the company's liking. On Tuesday, Chevron announced it had "newly discovered" evidence that the expert who conducted the damages assessment, Dr. Richard Cabrera, owns a remediation company in Ecuador that stands to benefit from a clean-up should the plaintiffs win the case.

Like so many other breathless announcements by Chevron, the company's newest "discovery" ("new" despite the fact that Chevron has filed 28 prior motions to attack Cabrera, none of which has been successful) has turned out to be worth less than the paper that its press releases were printed on.

It turns out that far from a conflict of interest, Dr. Cabrera explicitly disclosed to the court that he was involved in remediation in Ecuador – a qualification that was properly cited by the court as one of the reasons why he was accepted as the independent expert in the first place. Obviously, Dr. Cabrera would never be able to benefit from a clean-up related to a case he worked on given basic conflict of interest rules in Ecuador. But since Chevron cannot attack the technically sound evidence in the Cabrera report, which calls the company out for creating pollution that led to more than 1,400 excess cancer deaths, it tried to fabricate a distracting sideshow. For more details about Chevron's misrepresentations regarding Cabrera, see this response:

The factual deficiencies of Chevron's allegations didn't stop the company from its ill-advised decision to "man up" and deploy Chevron Vice-President and General Counsel Hewitt Pate as its lead spokesman on the issue. Pate was featured prominently in Chevron's press materials and was put squarely in the middle of what should have been a low-level food fight between the long-warring parties. The fact that Pate, who is the general counsel of America's third largest company, is expending his political capital to bolster unsubstantiated allegations demonstrates how frantic the company has become about Ecuador. It also raises serious questions about the judgment of Chevron's legal department, where it seems to be a job requirement to prove your "machismo" through frontline interviews. Any other company would use a consultant or public relations firm to execute this type of messy media hit job.

So what's behind this? The answer is politics. Making up a press "event" out of facts that you misrepresent is a classic maneuver popularized by the Karl Rove School of politics. It turns out that Pate and his colleagues running the Chevron legal department all played central roles in the last Bush Administration. This is not a coincidence, as all of these individuals looked like they picked up a trick or two from Rove during their years of government service.

Chevron has a major distinction among the world's super-major oil companies: while most hire their general counsels from within their own legal department after years of service, or from prestigious outside law firms populated by lawyers experienced in the ways of the energy industry, Chevron stands alone in hiring political lawyers out of Republican Administrations. The last two general counsels for the company (Charles James and Pate) have been hand-plucked from the Bush administration's Justice Department, where they worked closely with former Attorney General John Ashcroft. James, who worked closely with Pate in Washington and hired him for Chevron, has a reputation from Washington to San Francisco as being a hard-right political ideologue.

James made the decision to hire as Chevron's deputy general counsel Jim Haynes, one of the Bush Administration "torture lawyers" under potential indictment in Spain and now unable to travel abroad for fear of arrest. While Chevron keeps Haynes swept under the rug for public image purposes, speculation on the street is that he is running the day to day in Chevron's in-house legal department. He clearly learned a lot about Chevron's conception of human rights by providing the legal justification for torture to a Rumsfeld-led Pentagon, where he served as General Counsel before being blocked by the Senate for a federal judgeship because of his infamous memo justifying waterboarding.

With these personnel moves, Chevron has elected to build a general counsel's office that is filled with right-wing lawyers who have relatively little experience in complex litigation matters. It turns out that since Chevron's legal team is led by political ideologues, the company is trying to find a political solution to a legal problem. It hires outside law firms who, to obtain Chevron's lucrative business, fall all over themselves to enable this distorted and ineffective conception of politics-as-litigation. That's why Chevron keeps stubbing its toes over Ecuador. That's why it has lost five straight times before U.S. federal courts, including before the U.S. Supreme Court, in its increasingly futile effort to get any judge anywhere to grant the company some sort of relief. That's also why Chevron's latest gambit to take the entire Ecuador matter to an international arbitration panel, without the presence of the Amazon communities, now risks getting torpedoed in U.S. federal court. The ham-fisted approach championed by James and now Pate is one reason why the Ecuador liability has ballooned out of control for Chevron and threatens about 20% of the company's market value.

Chevron must realize that the old days of using political influence to quash legal cases in far-flung countries is winding down. In Ecuador, those days are clearly over. In the United States, the method doesn't work. The fact Chevron uses its new general counsel's limited credibility to distort basic facts shows how "quaint" Chevron is compared to its industry peers, most of whom (perhaps not coincidentally) reported far better financial results last quarter. "Quaint" is how former Bush Administration lawyers such as Chevron's Haynes and Alberto Gonzales – folks who never served in the armed forces themselves -- used to describe the Geneva Conventions when justifying those "harsh interrogation tactics" that the world considered torture. Most Americans would consider such talk profoundly unpatriotic, but in Chevron's legal department that's probably what passes for typical chatter around the water cooler. That, and the excitement generated by the Sarah Palin sighting at the latest Tea Party convention.

Since lost lives don't seem to have much impact on the thinking at Chevron, how many billions of dollars will have to be garnished before Chevron's Board wakes up to this internal hazard?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Chevron Caught Misrepresenting Facts about Expert Report in Ecuador Trial

In its latest attempt to evade a $27 billion liability in Ecuador, Chevron is misrepresenting key facts about a court-appointed expert who conducted a damages assessment not to the company’s liking, representatives of the plaintiffs announced today.

“Chevron is again trying to strong-arm the court by misrepresenting facts,” said Steven R. Donziger, an American legal advisor to the plaintiffs. “This is part of an underhanded attempt to derail a trial Chevron is losing based on the voluminous scientific evidence.”

On Tuesday, Chevron in a press release announced it had “newly discovered” evidence that the court-appointed Special Master who conducted a damages assessment, Richard Cabrera, owns a remediation company in Ecuador that stands to benefit from a clean-up should the plaintiffs win the case. The filing is the 29th official motion Chevron has made to the court to disqualify Cabrera but the court has never accepted Chevron’s arguments, said Donziger.

For more details about Chevron’s misrepresentations, see this response:

Chevron is accused in the underlying lawsuit of deliberately dumping more than 18 billion gallons of waste into Ecuador’s Amazon when it operated oil fields in that country from 1964 to 1990, causing a spike in cancer rates and decimating indigenous groups. The communities claim the pollution left is still leaching into soils and groundwater and has poisoned an area the size of Rhode Island.

Cabrera, working with a team of 14 scientists, found damages could be as high as $27.3 billion. A court will make a final determination on liability and damages later this year.

According to Pablo Fajardo, the lead Ecuadorian lawyer in the case, in its latest court filing Chevron fails to note that:

  • Cabrera disclosed to the court that he owned a clean-up company before his appointment as Special Master. This fact was properly cited by the court as one of the reasons he was qualified to do the damages assessment.
  • Chevron thought so highly of Cabrera’s qualifications that it accepted him as a court-appointed expert in an earlier part of the case and paid his fees as required by court rules.
  • The fact Cabrera’s company is qualified to bid on clean-up contracts offered by Ecuador’s state-owned oil company is irrelevant. That company, Petroecuador, is not a party to the case against Chevron and would have no role in any eventual cleanup.
  • Cabrera by virtue of his role in the case would be barred from having a role in a future clean-up.
  • Chevron misrepresents Cabrera’s role. Contrary to Chevron’s assertions, Cabrera did not rule on the critical question of liability and did not “exculpate” Petroecuador. Liability can only be determined by the court.

The case was transferred in 2002 to Ecuador from U.S. federal court (where it was originally filed in 1993) at Chevron’s request. Once the trial began in Ecuador in 2003 and the evidence pointed to Chevron’s culpability, the company began to try to delay the proceedings and discredit the court and Cabrera.

In the 1990s, in its effort to move the case to Ecuador, Chevron filed 14 sworn affidavits in U.S. federal court praising the fairness and competency of Ecuador’s courts. Once it was clear the company could lose the trial in Ecuador, Chevron filed multiple legal actions in the U.S. to shift the potential liability to Ecuador’s government, said Donziger.

Not one of the U.S.-based legal actions -- including one that was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court -- have succeeded. Chevron’s latest move is to seek a closed-door international arbitration under a trade pact between the U.S. and Ecuador, but the Amazon communities and Ecuador’s government have filed separate motions in U.S. federal court to block that proceeding, said Donziger.

“Chevron loses credibility in front of the court and the world each time it files a frivolous motion based on unsubstantiated facts,” said Donziger. “Each of these motions is part of an evidentiary record that we will use to prove that Chevron completely abused the court process in Ecuador to evade a judgment, in violation of the law.”

“We believe all of these Chevron attacks will backfire against the company in a later enforcement action to collect on any judgment,” said Donziger. “Judges are not as naïve as Chevron seems to think they are.”

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Chevron’s New CEO Ducks Spotlight Over Ecuador Issue

Pressures Washington Post & New York Times To Pull Ad, Violating Free Speech Rights in Move To Squash Criticism of Company

San Francisco, CA – Chevron’s new CEO John Watson is violating the free speech rights of environmental groups with aggressive pressure tactics, involving the New York Times and the Washington Post, to quash an ad campaign sponsored by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), critical of the company’s handling of a potential $27.3 billion liability for environmental damage in Ecuador, representatives of the Amazon Defense Coalition, which is suing the company for the environmental damage, said today.

The ad campaign, which featured a photo of Watson and was published in print in the New York Times and on the Washington Post website, read: “Oil men have polluted the Ecuadorean rainforest for decades. This man can do something about it now.” The ads were run as part of the launching of a new RAN campaign with the tagline “Energy Shouldn’t Cost Lives.”

Chevron responded to the ad campaign by directing the company’s lawyers and a paid advertising agency, which oversees the company’s own multi-million dollar ad campaign, to leverage the company’s influence and demand that the media outlets pull the ads. In their complaint to the Washington Post, Chevron alleged that the RAN campaign’s tagline, “Energy Shouldn’t Cost Lives,” was unsubstantiated, and thus should prevent the ad from being run.

“I hope Chevron would agree that energy shouldn’t cost lives. Me thinks Chevron doth protest too much. An arm-chair analysis of Chevron’s arm-twisting is nothing more than a projection of the guilt they harbor about the mess that Texaco left behind in Ecuador,” said Karen Hinton, a spokesperson for the Amazon Defense Coalition.

“If they have problems with the ad content, then Chevron officials should take out their own ad or agree to debate the plaintiffs or the environmental group. Otherwise they come across as schoolyard bullies.”

Despite Chevron’s complaints, the New York Times ran the advertisements. However, the Washington Post pulled the ad pending resolution of Chevron’s complaint. Last night, the Washington Post agreed to run the ad following questioning by RAN, the Amazon Defense Coalition and other news reporters. Separately, Chevron contacted Getty Images, from which RAN had purchased the rights to the photo of the CEO, to demand that Getty rescind RAN’s license to use the photo. Getty agreed to Chevron’s demand.

”Chevron is now pulling out all the stops to attempt to silence any criticism of the company, no matter how legitimate or well-founded,” said Hinton. “Even this ad campaign, which simply states that Watson has the power to do something about the pollution in Ecuador, has led to Watson mobilizing the company’s extensive resources.”

The response to the ad campaign is just the latest in a series of aggressive tactics employed by the oil giant in an apparent attempt to stifle criticism which have attracted headlines.

  • Chevron recently pressured the managers of the Houston Marathon Expo Center to throw out a RAN-sponsored booth and its runners. The booth contained information about Ecuador and the contamination. Chevron was a sponsor of the Houston Marathon. RAN agreed to leave the center, but a manager had them escorted out by Houston police anyway because, as he said, “Chevron’s higher-ups are freaking out.” See this article for more information:

  • Last year, Chevron tried to force the Sierra Club in San Francisco to block any questions about Ecuador from people attending a public forum featuring Sierra Club President Carl Pope and then Chevron CEO David O’Reilly. Wall Street Journal Editor, Alan Murray, who was moderating the forum discussion, did not know about this agreement. Once informed about it, Murray refused to agree to Chevron’s terms.

  • Chevron also paid for a fake “news” video, produced by former CNN anchor Gene Randall to counter a critical 60 Minutes piece. The video is widely advertised through Google ads, even though the New York Times and the Columbia Journalism Review wrote news articles critical of Randall and Chevron for trying to trick viewers into thinking the video was real news coverage.

In the underlying environmental case in Ecuador, Chevron is charged with deliberately dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste when it operated several large oil fields in Ecuador's Amazon from 1964 to 1990, decimating indigenous groups and causing a spike in cancer rates and other oil-related diseases. A court-appointed Special Master in Ecuador, where the trial is being held at Chevron’s request, found 1,401 excess cancer deaths due to the contamination and pegged damages at $27.3 billion.

A final judgment is expected this year.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Cancer Leads To Woman’s Death After Living Near Chevron Oil Site For 30 Years

Modesta Briones

The Chevron Pit is featuring the first of many personal stories about how the oil contamination left behind by Texaco has impacted the people living near the oil company’s former oil sites. Chevron purchased Texaco in 2001.

Our first story is about Modesta Briones, who passed away not long after she and her husband, Segundo Salinas, gave an interview to authors Lou Dematteis and Kayana Szymczak for their book Crude Reflections. Other stories can be found in this book and can be obtained here:

Modesta Briones and her husband Segundo Salinas
Texaco Parahuaco Oil Well #2/ Parahuaco

Modesta Briones: It started with a little sore on my toe, which grew a bit larger. The water near my house, where I washed clothes, was full of crude and the sore grew bigger, as if the flesh were rotting. It didn’t hurt, but I couldn’t stand its stink. I had a fever and chills.

Segundo Salinas: In Quito they said it was a cancerous tumor, and they had to amputate her leg, or the cancer would spread throughout her body and she could die.

Modesta Briones: When the doctor told me he was cutting off my leg, I was so sick that I thought I was going to die.

He amputated, and the doctor said I should return for a checkup, but I haven’t gone back because I don’t have the money.

I’m having a hard time getting used to living without my foot. I can’t walk with crutches. My husband, daughter and son help me, but it’s a hardship for them. Now, I no longer leave the house. Since the operation, I’ve only left my house once, to request an I.D. card. After losing my leg, I regret moving to the Amazon, but what can one do?

Segundo Salinas: We’ve lived here some 30 years. We moved here looking for a better future because there was unoccupied land for sale at a good price.

Texaco had already drilled five oil wells. In those days, the oil companies didn’t respect any laws. Nor did they respect us. They would say, “This is government land and we’ve made a deal with the government. And it doesn’t include you, so leave.” They would arrive, decide they wanted to drill somewhere, and then drill. They brought in machines and crushed our crops.

There are three toxic waste pits near my house, so many animals died. When my horses and chickens fell in, I pulled them out, but they stopped eating and died.

Some of the oil wells here have flares that burn off gas. The smoke rises, and when the rains come, black rain with a rusty smell falls back to earth, contaminating the land and the water.