Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Obama, Ecuador, and Chevron: Big Oil’s Hypocrisy

As the economic and environmental losses mount on the Gulf Coast so do the similarities between the growing BP oil spill and the existing oil contamination in the Ecuadorian rainforest, the latter courtesy of Chevron.

First and foremost, they both are ecological disasters that have forever changed the landscape’s environment and way of life for both the people and business owners of the Gulf Coast and the indigenous tribes of Ecuador.

In testimony on Capitol Hill BP, Transocean and Halliburton blamed each other for the accidental spill on the Gulf Coast, sounding much like Chevron in Ecuador, where the oil company has blamed everyone but itself for the billions of gallons of oil and toxic water dumped intentionally into the rainforest by Texaco, purchased by Chevron in 2001.

BP blamed Transocean and Transocean blamed Halliburton, just as Chevron has blamed Ecuador’s state-owned oil company, Petroecuador, and, oddly enough, even Texaco, arguing that just because it bought the oil company does not mean it is responsible for what Texaco did. (Never mind that this argument undoes about 150 years of legal rulings.)

Like Chevron, BP and its oil exploration partners are being very careful in their public statements about legal liability. But U.S. and Ecuadorian laws are clear on this point. The Economist reported this week that because BP is “majority shareholder in the consortium” and the “project’s operator, it is liable under American law for the costs of cleaning up.” Under US law either being the majority shareholder or being the operator is sufficient to make a company liable for the costs of cleaning up. Texaco was the exclusive operator of the oil well sites in Ecuador.

Meanwhile, President Obama has not been shy about pointing his finger directly at BP.

Twelve days after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama, visited Venice, Louisiana, to meet with local fishermen, industry representatives and local leaders. President Obama made it clear BP was to blame for the spill:

“BP is responsible for this leak — BP will be paying the bill,” he said.

President Obama’s press secretary said the White House would “keep a boot to the throat of BP” to ensure that it fulfilled its responsibilities.

In 2007, six months after his election as President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa visited the former concession area of Texaco, now owned by Chevron, to see firsthand the contamination and destruction left behind by the oil company after almost three decades of oil exploration. President Correa expressed support and concern for the residents who suffer from cancer, respiratory illness and other diseases as a result of living near toxic materials. He lifted soil from the ground and stated the obvious, “Soil with oil, friends.”

He was the first President of Ecuador to visit the contaminated sites since Texaco left Ecuador in 1992.

Chevron’s new attack-dog law firm, Gibson Dunn, points to this moment as evidence that Ecuador is a corrupt and backwards country and that Chevron cannot get a fair trial there -- even though Chevron pleaded with a U.S. court to move the lawsuit to Ecuador in the first place.

When President Correa visited several of over 900 unlined oil pits where Texaco left its toxic sludge, Chevron said it was “sorry” the President had gotten involved by expressing concern for the people living in the contaminated area.

Is Chevron sorry the President of the United States did the same thing on the Gulf Coast? Does Chevron think the United States is a corrupt and backwards country?

Chevron is drowning not only in a multi-billion liability in Ecuador, but also in its own hypocrisy.