Monday, April 19, 2010

Chevron Lied To Columbia Journalism Review About Toxic Oil Well

Shushufindi 38, the famous pit closed by Texaco in 1984 as seen in recent months. Chevron’s tests found no contamination here.

Chevron has told the highly respected Columbia Journalism Review a flat-out lie about an oil well site in Ecuador and the harmful level of contamination found at the site’s oil pit, featured in a 60 Minutes piece that aired almost a year ago.

In a critique of 60 Minutes’ coverage of the eco-disaster lawsuit filed by indigenous tribes in Ecuador against Chevron, CJR writer Martha Hamilton said the CBS news show should have reported that the government-owned oil company Petroecuador operated the well site Shushufindi 38 after Texaco left Ecuador in 1992.

Had Hamilton contacted the plaintiffs in the lawsuit about her pending critique, she would have learned that Chevron lied to her. Court documents clearly show that only Texaco operated the well site, which Texaco closed in 1984.

Chevron also told Hamilton that soil tests turned up no contamination at the site. Again, court documents clearly show this to be false. Tests from the plaintiffs revealed illegal levels of toxins at over 400 times the Ecuador legal limit of 1,000 parts per million of Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons and over 4,000 times the legal limit as allowed in most states in the United States (about 100 ppm of TPH).

For copies of these court documents, go to:
Chevron’s tests at the well site pictured above, on the other hand, showed no contamination. Why? Chevron took its test samples uphill and away from the well site. Taking soil samples far away and uphill from toxic waste sites where Chevron knows it will find little or no contamination, and then using those same samples to report the toxic waste sites pose no risk to human health, is part of the company’s fraud in the Ecuador litigation.

Hamilton also argues that 60 Minutes should have spent more time explaining the 1995 remediation agreement between Texaco and the government of Ecuador. Hamilton reported that Petroecuador is responsible for cleaning up Shushufindi 38, but we disagree.

If 60 Minutes had spent more time explaining the remediation agreement, viewers would have understood why we disagree, and Chevron would have looked even worse. Viewers would have learned that Texaco and Ecuador’s government negotiated the agreement after the plaintiffs filed their lawsuit in the US in 1993. They also would have learned that the agreement applied only to potential government claims, and expressly excluded the private claims being heard in the lawsuit.

Viewers also would have been told about how Texaco claimed to have cleaned about 16% of over 900 oil pits built by Texaco, a clear violation of its agreement with Ecuador’s government (which required it to clean 37% of the pits). Yet Texaco didn’t actually clean those pits. It just bulldozed dirt over them. Hundreds of tests taken at these “remediated” oil pits demonstrate they are as toxic as the pits that Texaco didn’t clean. Even Chevron’s tests submitted into court evidence show that Texaco did not clean these pits. The entire clean-up on which Chevron’s defense rests was a sham.

Because Texaco said it cleaned the pits, people living in the area thought they were cleaned so they built homes directly on top of toxic waste dumps. Here’s an example at a so-called “remediated” pit at Shushufindi 43.

A home built on top of Texaco’s toxic oil pit at Shushufindi 43.

As a result, Texaco’s phony cleanup resulted in putting people even closer to the contamination, increasing the risk of exposure to harmful chemicals. Match that up with the fact Chevron has never issued a warning to the local population that the pits are dangerous hazardous waste sites.

Had Hamilton contacted both sides, she could have written a completely different story: about how Chevron is attacking 60 Minutes so it can divert attention from its cover-up of Texaco’s phony cleanup.