Monday, June 28, 2010

Chevron’s Environmental Racism

In 1994, a year after the communities in Ecuador first field suit against Texaco for the intentional contamination of their ancestral lands, Texaco executives were caught on tape openly deriding black employees and conspiring to destroy documentation which had been subpoenaed in a federal discrimination case against the company. The candid comments described black employees as “niggers” and openly mocked the celebration of Kwanzaa. The lawsuit alleged that Texaco discriminated against minority employees and created a racially hostile environment. The Federal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that “there was reason to believe Texaco [was] guilty of company-wide racial bias.”

Decades later, Chevron (which bought Texaco in 2001) displays a shocking level of mistreatment towards people of color.

Ecuador is a great example. In that country’s Amazon, it remains undisputed that to save money the company violated industry norms and dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste water, spilled 17 million gallons of oil without cleaning it up, and abandoned more than 900 unlined and uncovered waste pits filled with toxic sludge. The victims are indigenous tribes and impoverished mestizo communities. Environmental experts, the World Health Organization and numerous other organizations have condemned the practices as knowingly substandard compared to what it was doing at the same time in the United States. Texaco utilized dramatically lower operational practices when operating in poor communities where people of color live. It has then lied about what happened, used fraud to win a legal “release” from the government, and engaged in a multi-decade cover-up.

Now, in 2010, as the contamination continues to leach into the drinking water of thousands of individuals whose lifestyles have been decimated by the pollution, Chevron still refuses to perform a remediation. The company continues to tell the families, who are now suffering from cancer and other oil-related illnesses, that the contamination is not harmful to environment or human health.

The company has even gone before the court in Ecuador and suggested that any remediation should only be required to meet a 10,000 ppm standard for petroleum contaminants, though in the U.S., the standard that is required to limit harm to human health is 100 ppm or less. Clearly, for Chevron, the lives of the Ecuadorian families are worth 1/100th the value of a U.S. life.

Recently, a Chevron pipeline leaked in Utah. Salt Lake City residents awoke to sheets of oil in their rivers and streams as the Ecuadorians did for decades. But this time, Chevron is pledging to remediate and compensate the Utah victims. It is even paying to costs for several weddings that had to be moved to a new location.

It would be a sign of improvement if the same company were not simultaneously alleging that oil pollution was not a problem for the communities of color in Ecuador.

For Chevron, racial and cultural bias remains. As a result, some lives are worth more than others.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Chevron Should Follow BP’s Lead

In its negotiations with the White House to fund a $20 billion escrow account, BP could have stuck to its legal guns and followed Chevron's example of thumbing its nose at victims of its environmental practices in Ecuador. Instead, BP distanced itself from Chevron's strategy of blaming anyone but itself for the extensive oil contamination it caused to Ecuador's rainforest.

We will see how BP handles liability issues going forward, but this is a step in the right direction.

Chevron should accept what the BP spill makes abundantly clear: profits over safety is not a business plan. In fact, it could put you out of business.

That is proving true for Chevron in Ecuador, where an independent court expert has determined that the company faces more than $27 billion in damages for illegally dumping billions of gallons of oil-related toxins directly into the Amazon from 1964-1990. Audits conducted by Chevron, as well as the company's own sampling results, overwhelmingly prove the company's culpability.

While the BP disaster was an accident, Chevron's dumping was done intentionally as part of a plan to cut costs.

In regard to Chevron's Ecuador liability, two other things have become abundantly clear:

  • Had oil companies like Chevron been held accountable for what happened in Ecuador the likelihood of accidents like the one in the Gulf would have been drastically reduced. Incentives would be different. Companies would have been forced to invest in safety, because they would have known they could not externalize environmental damage to local inhabitants, as has been done in Ecuador and the Gulf.

  • The $27 billion in damages for the Ecuador mess is beginning to sound modest considering the astounding scope of the toxins that Chevron has admitted to dumping in Ecuador. Chevron refers to the number as a "shakedown." But in light of the $60 billion (and growing) price tag of the BP liability and cleanup, $27 billion sounds like a bargain given that the contamination in Ecuador is far larger than the Gulf spill estimates.

How many more Ecuadors and Gulf of Mexicos do we need to suffer through before the oil industry is held accountable?

Chevron’s Deepwater Drilling: Blind Faith or Dump Luck?

Chevron has its own ticking time bomb in the Gulf of Mexico. The following article, from John Collins Rudolph, appeared on the New York Times' "Green Blog" today:

On a Wing and a Prayer: Chevron's Deep Well

One of the deepest offshore oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico lies beneath 7,000 feet of water and under more than 20,000 feet of rock and sand. Estimated to hold as much as 100 million barrels of crude, the field was discovered by Chevron in 2001, and production began in 2008. It is less than 20 miles west of the Deepwater Horizon blowout.

The name of the field, and the rig anchored above it, is Blind Faith.

It's a curious choice for a high-tech drilling operation pushing the boundaries of modern engineering, perhaps a bit like NASA naming a new shuttle "Dumb Luck." But there's an explanation: Blind Faith is in fact the name of a short-lived 1960s psychedelic rock supergroup, fronted by the guitar god Eric Clapton.

The investigative reporter and former 60 Minutes correspondent Peter W. Klein uncovered this factoid during a visit to the Blind Faith rig last summer while filming a story for ABC News on deepwater drilling. The segment features video of submersible robots thousands of feet down on the seafloor manipulating drilling equipment.

"When I asked the manager of Chevron's gulf rigs what he would do if there was a leak at his wellhead more than a mile down, he assured me they had robot-controlled devices that could handle any contingency," Mr. Klein wrote in a recent essay on the National Public Radio Web site.

In Congressional testimony this week, Chevron's chairman and chief executive, John S. Watson, testified that his wells and rigs – presumably including Blind Faith – were far safer than the BP well that continues to gush after 50-plus days of desperate attempts to cap it.

"We have multiple systems to prevent a tragedy like the Deepwater Horizon," Mr. Watson said. "Our drilling policies and procedures are rigorous. We require continuous training. We certify our drilling personnel to ensure they are qualified to manage unusual circumstances. And we verify that contractors have the skills to execute well control."

Mr. Watson joined three other oil company executives in rhetorically throwing BP under the bus during Wednesday's hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The leaders of Shell, Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips also claimed that their deepwater operations were safe, and that it was negligence by BP – not the inherent risks of drilling in ultra-deep waters, or lax regulation of the industry – that led to the uncontrolled blowout.

Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, the Democratic chairman of the committee, was having none of it.

"BP failed miserably when confronted with a real leak," Mr. Waxman said, "and Exxon Mobil and the other companies would do no better."

As for Blind Faith – well, it is perhaps BP, not Chevron, who could find some solace in one of the band's hits: "Had to Cry Today," by Steve Winwood.

"The feeling's the same as being outside of the law," the song laments. "Had to cry today."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Shan: Chevron Loses a Round in First Amendment Battle over Ecuador Film Footage

The below post appeared on today – take a look below or after the jump:

Victory for First Amendment, Filmmakers, & Amazon Communities in Battle Vs. Chevron Over Ecuador Footage!

Chevron suffered a significant legal setback in the courts today in its sprawling cynical effort to evade accountability for its environmental devastation in Ecuador

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that acclaimed filmmaker Joe Berlinger will get an Appeals Court hearing of his appeal of the lower court decision ordering him to turn over 600+ hours of raw footage shot during the making of his award-winning documentary CRUDE. The ruling by the three-judge panel of the Circuit Court also 'stays' the subpoena ordering the production of the footage while Berlinger's appeal is pending.

This is excellent news for supporters of the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment, and documentary filmmakers and investigative journalists– and everyone that benefits from the work done by these people to shine a spotlight on issues of social and political importance. In other words, this is great news for everyone.

Furthermore, this is a victory for those who have dared to discover the truth about Chevron's environmental disaster in Ecuador, and the communities struggling to hold the oil giant accountable.

Chevron's lawyers from corporate law behemoth Gibson Dunnhope to mine the CRUDE outtakes for any material that they might find useful to their relentless legal and public relations schemes to discredit the plaintiffs, their attorneys and supporters, and the courts in Ecuador.

In response to the ruling, Mr. Berlinger's lawyer Maura Wogan told The Wrap:

"Today's decision signals that the appeals court takes seriously the rights of investigative journalists like Joe Berlinger."

And Joe Berlinger had this to say:

"I am delighted that the appellate court seems to understand the significant public interest in my appeal being heard. The stay that was granted today will allow us to argue the merits of our position before the Court."

The ruling by the Circuit Court of Appeals vindicates the position of the growing number of high-profile supporters who have spoken out for Berlinger.

On Friday, film legend and environmental activist Robert Redford penned a powerful opinion article in the Huffington Post, entitled 'Joe Berlinger vs. Chevron: Why We Must All Defend Independent Filmmaking'.

Redford's argument couldn't be more straightforward:

Filmmakers like Joe Berlinger fulfill a crucial role in today's society by providing independent information on pressing contemporary human rights and social issues. Their success as storytellers depends on access to those men and women willing to talk on camera. If the subjects of those documentaries are fearful of the ramifications of telling the truth then the filmmaker has no story.

Without a shield law, there is no recognized journalist/filmmaker/source protection, creating the very scenario we have now. The judges in this case must recognize this is first and foremost a first amendment issue. The higher courts need to overturn the decision and adhere to higher standards of journalistic privilege.

If we allow the voice of the independent artist to be stifled we should expect nothing less than extreme repercussions for freedom of information... and freedom in general.

Also last week, Floyd Abrams, perhaps the best-known First Amendment lawyer in the country, filed an Amicus Curiae (friend-of-the-court) brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The brief was joined by 13 (!) major media organizations– ABC, CBS, NBC, HBO, The Associated Press, Dow Jones, The Washington Post, The New York Times Company, Gannett Company, Hearst Corporation, the Daily News, the Directors Guild of America, and the International Documentary Association.

The New York Times' Dave Itzkoff, who has been following the case closely for the Arts Beat blog at, wrote:

The brief says the district court's ruling "was fundamentally flawed" in its interpretation of the 1999 case Gonzales v. NBC, in which the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that even confidential materials can be released if they are likely to be relevant to a significant issue in the case and are not reasonably obtainable elsewhere.

Judge Kaplan's ruling, the brief said, "effectively shifted the burden of alleged unfairness onto the filmmakers, rendering this circuit's requirement of a relevance showing meaningless," and "made it far too easy for Chevron to obtain far too much, precisely what Gonzales forbids."

In the June 1, 2010 amicus brief, Abrams writes more on Judge Kaplan's misreading of the Gonzalez case and gets to the the real heart of the matter:

The vast distance between the District Court's reading of Gonzales and its text and spirit is illustrated by the Court's emphasis in both its May 10 and May 20 orders on the proposition that, because the individual subjects captured in the outtake footage voluntarily chose to expose themselves to public scrutiny through the inevitable screening of a completed film, it would "not credit any assertion that the discovery of the outtakes by Petitioners would compromise the ability of Berlinger or, for that matter, any other film maker, to obtain material from individuals interested in confidential treatment." This analysis completely ignores the relationship between a documentary filmmaker and the individuals that he or she interviews; it assumes, wrongly, that the participants in such a project would see no difference between the public circulation of a final film painstakingly prepared and edited by the filmmaker who solicited their contribution and whom they entrusted with telling their story and the potentially unlimited display of their every word in a widely-publicized multi-billion dollar international litigation.

And lastly, last week ahead of today's hearing, NPR's All Things Considered covered the legal battle in a story called 'A 'Crude' Awakening: Chevron Vs. The Documentarian'. The story predictably gives Chevron lawyer Randy Mastro of Gibson Dunn and company spokesman Kent Robertson each a chance to weigh in with their cynical spin. After today's loss in the courts over their attempts to get at Berlinger's CRUDE outtakes, I'm sure they're huddling up to devise their next tactic in Chevron's treacherous strategy to deceive, deny, and delay... until it all goes away.

But the communities in Ecuador's Amazon rainforest have other plans, and have vowed to struggle until they get the justice that has been denied them so long.

And of course, Berlinger's legal battle isn't over. While the Circuit Court stayed the lower court's order to turn over all his raw footage to Chevron, Berlinger still has to argue his case on appeal. Want to help with the costly legal battle? Any amount you can donate to the CRUDE First Amendment legal defense fund is deeply appreciated.

And if you still haven't seen the explosive, award-winning documentary CRUDE, see it, and judge for yourself.

– Han
Han Shan is Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Norman Lear Latest to Blast Chevron for Trying to Seize Ecuador Film Footage

This article, by Norman Lear, appeared today on The Huffington Post:

Was Oil Named 'Crude' Because of the Way Oil Companies Do Business?

Let me leave it to you; which is it? "Couldn't be" or "certainly possible"? The recent BP crisis could be called the greatest of "natural" disasters. Natural for a company that had already received 760 citations for "egregious, willful violations," accounting for "97% of all flagrant violations found in the refining industry..." according to the Center for Public Integrity,as quoted by Frank Rich in this past Sunday's New York Times.

Currently setting another high standard for crude behavior in the oil business is Chevron. As for the battle between Chevron and the indigenous groups of people in Ecuador who are suing the oil company for despoiling a swath of the Amazon rainforest the size of Rhode Island that is their habitat, and upon which they depend for their sustenance, I am not taking sides. It is Chevron's reaction to a documentary on that very subject, Crude, which received the most glowing reviews in 2009, with which I take issue.

With no precedent for such a broad action, Chevron has subpoenaed the filmmaker, Joe Berlinger, to turn over his entire vault of footage -- over 600 hours shot (Berlinger is an exceedingly thorough filmmaker) plus the notes and sources the film was based on -- by citing the relevance of three scenes totaling about six minutes in a film that has a running time of 105 minutes and represents an infinitesimal fraction of the total hours shot.

Let me say that again: Chevron wants it all, every scene, 600 hours, because they believe they've found six minutes of footage that they think can help discredit the class-action suit filed against them by 30,000 Ecuadorians. Who would have guessed that Chevron would find a crudely sympathetic ear in U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan? Flouting the First Amendment, the author's right to keep his sources and work product private, and simple common sense (600 hours for the six minutes that they hold in question, my God!!) Judge Kaplan, ruling in favor of the company, ordered the largest turnover of a reporter's work product in American history.

Giving deep-pocketed corporations the right to rummage around in the files of a well-respected, independent documentarian like Berlinger will not only send a very discouraging message to anyone involved in the news-gathering business, but also to anyone who might want to talk to reporters about exposing the kind of corporate negligence or potential villainy that made the BP disaster possible. Chevron is the largest corporation in California and the fifth largest on the planet. I am quite confident that the Founding Fathers did not want corporations to use their vast profits to discourage this kind of reporting from taking place and at the same time place considerable financial burdens on filmmakers like Berlinger to defend their constitutional rights.

Although the American media has been on hand to catch BP with its tactics and ethical shorts down, the Chevron situation took place far from the lens of most American journalists and is the kind of story often overlooked by the mainstream American press. Whatever the reason for that may be, the chilling effect that this ruling will have on investigative filmmakers like Berlinger will mean that stories like this might not be told in the future. This is such a matter of grave importance that the bulk of American media companies signed on to leading constitutional lawyer Floyd Abrams friend-of-the-court brief recently filed on behalf of Berlinger's case. The group filing included all three major broadcast networks, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The crudest thing of all in this story is the tilt in this country in favor of corporations. From the Supreme Court's recent decision allowing corporations to flood Washington with campaign finance -- which in turn keeps our country tethered to an antiquated fuel source that is destroying our environment -- to Chevron's current attempt to destroy the protections that allow a free press to function, it is time we put the future of this country back in the hands of its citizens, not its corporations.

Having observed hundreds of thousands of Americans in almost 50 states wait in line as long as 90 minutes to spend a moment with a touring original copy of the Declaration of Independence, born the night of July 4, 1776, our country's birth certificate, I am here to report that the American people, the solid American people, are ready for a rebirth of citizenship. They are ready to be freed, to become born-again Americans -- citizens who once more declare their independence, this time from the growing corporatocracy in which we find ourselves today.

I suggest that we begin by applauding today's appellate court decision granting Berlinger a stay in order to have a full hearing on his appeal. I, along with my fellow citizens, hope that these judges will continue to put the sanctity of the First Amendment ahead of the rights of corporations when Berlinger's appeal is heard in July.

* * * * * * *

To learn more about how to help with Mr. Berlinger's legal efforts, please click here

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Chevron’s Ecuador Corruption and Ricardo Reis Veiga

The environmental crime committed by Texaco in Ecuador – and now defended by Chevron in a multi-billion litigation there – is intimately tied to the malfeasance of Chevron lawyer Ricardo Reis Veiga. Reis Veiga is known as the architect of Chevron's fraud in Ecuador. It is no coincidence that Chevron has hidden the formerly high-profile Veiga under the sheets for some time now, trying to keep him out of public view while the awful consequences of his misconduct play out in the trial in Ecuador and in the health problems of thousands of people.

To put it bluntly, Reis Veiga was Texaco's corporate hit man in Ecuador. He used fraud, money, deceit and the oil giant's raw power to help it evade responsibility for the deliberate dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon while Texaco operated an oil concession from 1964 to 1990. Reis Veiga, along with ten Ecuadorian officials with whom he is accused of conspiring, is currently under indictment for fraud in Ecuador for lying about the results of a sham remediation Texaco did in the mid-1990s.

While Reis Veiga supervised the trial in Ecuador, terrible strategic mistakes were made. Chevron took numerous soil samples that proved that the previously remediated sites were in fact not remediated, even though Reis Veiga and his colleague and Chevron lawyer Rodrigo Perez Pallares signed off on the clean-up. Under Reis Veiga's brilliant supervision, Chevron's local lawyers essentially proved the case of the plaintiffs.

For this brilliant legal work, Chevron has spent tens of millions of dollars in fees.

The latest issue for Reis Veiga is the role he played in directing Chevron employee Diego Borja in his failed effort to entrap a trial judge in Ecuador in a bribery scandal to derail the trial where the company faces a $27.3 billion liability.

The so-called "bribery" videotapes have been discredited since Chevron released them in August 2009. They do not show anyone taking a bribe; the judge never discusses a bribe. The two men who made the videotapes are not the good Samaritans Chevron portrayed them to be. American Wayne Hansen is a convicted felon and inveterate liar; Borja is a man who bragged to a friend that "crime pays" and said that Chevron "cooked" evidence in the lawsuit, created a dummy laboratory to process soil samples, and engaged in all sorts of malfeasance that if known in full would allow the plaintiffs to win the case in the time it takes him to snap his fingers.

Borja has worked for Chevron in Ecuador since at least 2004. On tapes recorded by childhood friend Santiago Escobar, Borja said he was hired by and took all of his direction from Chevron's Miami office headed by none other than the indefatigable Reis Veiga. Let's just say this type of behavior would be consistent with Reis Veiga's historical pattern. See transcripts of Borja's recorded conversations with Santiago Escobar, the childhood friend. (Transcript 6, October 1, 2009 p. 7-8; Transcript 2, October 1, 2009, pages 2-3)

Borja for years collected soil samples for Chevron during the Ecuador trial, for which he was paid $10,000 per month – a millionaire's wage in Ecuador. His wife, Sara Portillo, worked at the so-called "independent" laboratory that processed the company's soil samples and then presented them as "evidence" to the court.

In his conversations with Escobar, Borja said Chevron was concerned about a possible Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violation should anyone discover that the oil company had anything to do with the bribery scandal. The Act prohibits American companies from bribing or otherwise offering benefits to foreign government officials to obtain business.

Borja wrote in an online chat: "Imagine I disappear and say that everything is planned by the company…. They'll shit themselves, because the corruption law would apply in that case, and they'd close down their operations in the U.S." (9/15 online chat).

Chevron's management needs to bring Reis Veiga out from under the sheets to answer some basic questions about his relationship to Borja and the video scandal.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Bob Herbert of NYT on Chevron: Rain Forest Jekyll and Hyde

Bob Herbert's column today detailing the extent of the disaster caused by Chevron in Ecuador is not the first time his attention has turned to the tragedy in the region. The below article appeared in the New York Times on October 20, 2005.

You can find the original at:

October 20, 2005

Op-Ed Columnist

Rain Forest Jekyll and Hyde?


Please welcome the latest entry to the Chutzpah Hall of Fame: the mighty Chevron Corporation.

On Oct. 28, during a gala ceremony at its headquarters in San Ramon, Calif., the company, which until May was known as ChevronTexaco, will honor the latest recipients of the annual Chevron Conservation Awards. The awards are meant to recognize the achievements of men and women who have "helped to protect wildlife, restore wilderness, create natural preserves and parks, and institute educational programs to heighten environmental awareness."

Meanwhile, Chevron's lawyers are in Ecuador defending the company against charges that it contributed to one of the worst environmental disasters on the planet. The company is accused of dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste, over a period of 20 years, into the soil and water of a previously pristine section of the Amazon rain forest.

According to a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of some 30,000 impoverished residents of the rain forest, this massive, long-term pollution has ruined portions of the jungle, contaminated drinking water, sickened livestock, driven off wildlife and threatened the very survival of the indigenous tribes, which have been plagued with serious illnesses, including a variety of cancers.

Chevron, which likes to promote itself as a champion of the environment, contends that no such catastrophe occurred. A spokesman told me yesterday that the billions of gallons of waste that was dumped "wasn't necessarily toxic."

"We've done inspections," the spokesman said. "We've done a deep scientific analysis, and that analysis has shown no harmful impacts from the operations. There just aren't any."

You would have a very difficult time selling that story to the people in the rain forest who have been drinking and bathing in water fouled with the byproducts of oil-drilling processes. Parents have watched their children play and their livestock feed in areas contaminated with oily substances. Pits that perpetually ooze gunk and oil are ubiquitous.

Two years ago, a reporter from The Times interviewed a man named René Arévalo who lived near a separation plant that was once operated by a Texaco subsidiary. The house in which Mr. Arévalo and his five children lived had been built on a mound of dirt that covered a pit where wastewater had been dumped.

The family got its water from a well. "If you dig here just a meter deep," said Mr. Arévalo, "you hit oil. The water is contaminated, very contaminated. But we drink it. What else can we do?"

Texaco merged with Chevron in 2001. From the early 1970's to 1992, the Texaco subsidiary was part of a consortium that ran the oil-drilling operations in an area of virgin rain forest known simply as the Oriente - the East. Texaco discovered oil there in the late 60's.

According to nearly all accounts, neither Texaco nor its primary partner in the consortium, Ecuador's state oil company - Petroecuador - paid much attention to the effects of the venture on the surrounding environment and its people. Tremendous amounts of waste generated from the drilling, extraction, processing and transportation operations - billions upon billions of gallons - were dumped into unlined pits in the ground or poured into freshwater streams.

"The systematic way that they disposed of toxic waste in Ecuador was to dump it into open-air pits that they dug out of the jungle soil, or directly into rivers, streams and swamps in one of the most delicate ecosystems on the planet," said Steven Donziger, who is part of a team of American and Ecuadorean lawyers handling the lawsuit.

Crude oil was also spilled in the jungle, millions of gallons of it.

Disasters of this kind, involving poor people in remote areas of foreign countries, tend to stay low on the level of awareness of the American news media. The suffering tends to go unnoticed by the outside world.

The families in the vicinity of the Ecuadorean oil-drilling operations have had to drink from contaminated rivers and streams because they had such limited access to running water. And any pollution-related illnesses they may contract pose an even greater danger than normal because of their abject poverty and the absence of adequate health care.

Officials at Chevron do not see any of this as their problem. They will tell you that they've cleaned up any mess they might have made, and then some. And they will deny to their dying breath that they have harmed anyone.

After all, they're champions of the environment.

Chevron Lawyer Admits Chevron Corruption

One of Chevron's chief Ecuadorian lawyers, Rodrigo Perez Pallares, has admitted under oath that the company has been lying to courts in the United States and Ecuador to evade a potential $27 billion liability in Ecuador. Chevron is accused in a lawsuit of deliberately dumping more than 18.5 billion gallons of toxic "produced water" and oil waste into Ecuador's Amazon rainforest when Texaco (now Chevron) operated and reaped the profits of an oil concession there from 1964 to 1992.

For years, Chevron's primary defense in the case – given that the scientific evidence of pollution is overwhelming -- is that the government of Ecuador "released" it from any future liability in return for a partial "remediation" even though that so-called "remediation" has been exposed as a complete fraud.

But the sworn testimony of Perez Pallares, Chevron's own lawyer and the man who negotiated and signed the "release" agreement, proves what the Amazonian communities have long said – that Chevron knows that this legal defense is bogus. When Perez Pallares was asked in a deposition in the United States if the "release" impacts claims of third parties parties who did not sign the release (like those of the Amazonian residents currently suing Chevron) his response was simple: The release has no impact on those claims.

This testimony directly contradicts what Chevron is saying in various courts around the world, to its shareholders, to journalists, and to the SEC and regulatory authorities. Perez Pallares made his statements on November 16, 2006, during a deposition in a separate litigation between Ecuador's government and Chevron in New York federal court. In that case, Chevron hastily withdrew the "release" claim when it appeared a U.S. federal judge could actually review it and issue a ruling.

An excerpt from the stunning testimony of Perez Pallares:

Q: But what [Article 8 of the MOU] does do instead is it carves out entirely any action brought by parties who were not parties to the settlement agreement. Would you agree with that?

The Witness (Pallares): I agree…

Q: If I'm understanding you correctly, and I don't mean to mischaracterize your testimony – you'll tell me if I'm incorrect – I think what you're saying is that a plaintiff can sue in Ecuador but can only obtain relief to the extent that Ecuador permits that relief.

Pallares: That's exactly it.

Q: But the MOU and the settlement doesn't affect that one way or the other. It doesn't give them rights they would not otherwise have. Is that a fair statement?

Pallares: That's correct.

Read the entire page of the testimony here.

Note also that section VIII of the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Chevron and Ecuador's government in 1994 explicitly states (in reference to the release):

The provisions of this agreement shall apply without prejudice to the rights possibly held by third parties for the impact caused as a consequence of the operations of the former PETROECUADOR-TEXACO Consortium.

Remember, Perez Pallares negotiated and signed the "release" for Chevron so we can assume he knows what he's talking about.

Chevron's CEO, John Watson, and General Counsel, Hewitt Pate, know that the company has been lying about its "release" of liability in Ecuador – which is why they've been desperate to attack the people bringing the lawsuit against the company and their allies. This desperation (and Watson's thin skin about the Ecuador issue) was on display in recent days when the company's annual shareholder meeting exploded into chaos when Watson couldn't handle being confronted by critics of Chevron's abysmal human rights and environmental record. Instead of talking to the critics, who had a legal right to be present at the shareholder meeting, Watson lost control of the meeting and ordered Chevron's private security forces and the Houston Police Department to crush the protestors – arresting five non-violent company critics, including a reverend from Oakland, CA. Now Chevron and the Houston Police Department are facing additional liability for blowing their cool and treating the shareholder's meeting like a junior high school student council meeting.

Given the size of Chevron's Ecuador liability and his own involvement in covering it up, Watson's desperation is understandable. Watson and Pate know that the scientific evidence – more than 62,000 chemical sampling results – and trial record – more than 200,000 pages of evidence, testimony, and motions – conclusively demonstrate Chevron's culpability in a disaster that is several orders of magnitude larger than the terrible tragedy caused by BP's spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Given Chevron's despicable conduct in Ecuador, it is not surprising that Watson is using any means necessary to escape the liability – even if it includes lying to U.S. and Ecuadorian courts about the so-called "release" that his own lawyer knows is a bogus defense.

Bob Herbert of NYT: Chevron Has Its Own BP Disaster In Ecuador

The following article appeared in today's New York Times:

Disaster in the Amazon


BP’s calamitous behavior in the Gulf of Mexico is the big oil story of the moment. But for many years, indigenous people from a formerly pristine region of the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador have been trying to get relief from an American company, Texaco (which later merged with Chevron), for what has been described as the largest oil-related environmental catastrophe ever.

“As horrible as the gulf spill has been, what happened in the Amazon was worse,” said Jonathan Abady, a New York lawyer who is part of the legal team that is suing Chevron on behalf of the rainforest inhabitants.

It has been a long and ugly legal fight and the outcome is uncertain. But what has happened in the rainforest is heartbreaking, although it has not gotten nearly the coverage that the BP spill has.

What’s not in dispute is that Texaco operated more than 300 oil wells for the better part of three decades in a vast swath of Ecuador’s northern Amazon region, just south of the border with Colombia. Much of that area has been horribly polluted. The lives and culture of the local inhabitants, who fished in the intricate waterways and cultivated the land as their ancestors had done for generations, have been upended in ways that have led to widespread misery.

Texaco came barreling into this delicate ancient landscape in the early 1960s with all the subtlety and grace of an invading army. And when it left in 1992, it left behind, according to the lawsuit, widespread toxic contamination that devastated the livelihoods and traditions of the local people, and took a severe toll on their physical well-being.

A brief filed by the plaintiffs said: “It deliberately dumped many billions of gallons of waste byproduct from oil drilling directly into the rivers and streams of the rainforest covering an area the size of Rhode Island. It gouged more than 900 unlined waste pits out of the jungle floor — pits which to this day leach toxic waste into soils and groundwater. It burned hundreds of millions of cubic feet of gas and waste oil into the atmosphere, poisoning the air and creating ‘black rain’ which inundated the area during tropical thunderstorms.”

The quest for oil is, by its nature, colossally destructive. And the giant oil companies, when left to their own devices, will treat even the most magnificent of nature’s wonders like a sewer. But the riches to be made are so vastly corrupting that governments refuse to impose the kinds of rigid oversight and safeguards that would mitigate the damage to the environment and its human and animal inhabitants.

Pick your venue. The families whose lives and culture are dependent upon the intricate web of waterways along the Gulf Coast of the United States are in a fix similar to that of the indigenous people zapped by nonstop oil spills and the oil-related pollution in the Ecuadorian rainforest. Each group is fearful about its future. Both have been treated contemptuously.

The oil companies don’t care. Shell can’t wait to begin drilling in the Arctic Ocean off the northern coast of Alaska, an area that would pose monumental problems for anyone trying to deal with a catastrophic spill. The companies pretend that the spills won’t happen. They always say that their drilling operations are safe. They said that before drilling off Santa Barbara, and in the rainforest in Ecuador, and in the Gulf of Mexico, and everywhere else they drill.

Their assurances mean nothing.

President Obama has suspended Shell’s Arctic drilling permits and has temporarily halted the so-called Arctic oil rush. What we’ve learned from the BP debacle in the gulf, and from the rainforest, and so many other places, is just how reckless and inept the oil companies can be when it comes to safeguarding life, limb and the environment.

They’re dangerous. They need the most stringent kind of oversight, and swift and severe sanctions for serious wrongdoing. At the same time, we need to be searching with a much, much greater sense of urgency for viable energy alternatives. Treating the Amazon and the gulf and the Arctic as if they were nothing more than toxic waste sites is an affront to the planet and all life-forms that inhabit it.

Chevron doesn’t believe it should be called to account for any of the sins Texaco may have committed in the Amazon. A spokesman told me that the allegations of environmental damage were wildly overstated and that even if Texaco had caused some pollution, it had cleaned it up and reached an agreement with the Ecuadorian government that precluded further liability.

The indigenous residents may be suffering (they’re in much worse shape than the people on the gulf coast) but the Chevron-Texaco crowd feels real good about itself. The big money was made, and the trash was left behind.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Redford: Chevron Move to Seize Ecuador Film Footage "Shocking"

The below article appeared on The Huffington Post today:

Joe Berlinger vs. Chevron: Why We Must All Defend Independent Filmmaking

I have devoted a significant part of my life's work in support of the independent artist -- independent referring not to the size of a project, its funding or subject matter; rather, to the singular vision and voice of that artist. I founded Sundance Institute 30 years ago out of the belief that it is vital to ensure that the artist's voice remains vibrant, valued and heard in civil society at large.

It is with this in mind that I ask you to join me in bringing wider attention and broader support to a critically important case currently in play in U.S. courts.

On May 6, 2010 Judge Lewis A. Kaplan ordered filmmaker Joe Berlinger to turn over to Chevron Corporation all raw footage -- some 600 hours -- from the making of his documentary, Crude: The Real Price of Oil. Chevron has sued to use this footage to bolster its legal proceedings in the very same case that is the central subject of Berlinger's film. The potential ramifications of this for the journalist community, film world and society in general are both shocking and profound.

Joe Berlinger has been connected to the Sundance family in a variety of ways for a number of years. Crude made its world premiere at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival; he has volunteered his time and expertise to Sundance Institute by serving as both a competition Juror and a Festival panelist, and he has participated in the Institute's Documentary Film Program. He has directed Sundance Channel's award-winning Iconoclast series along with Bruce Sinofsky and his films have been broadcast on the Channel as well.

His stellar career includes such landmark documentaries as Brothers Keeper, Paradise Lost and Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, all of which premiered at our Festival. But even if there were not these connections, I would strongly call for his support. Here's why.

Filmmakers like Joe Berlinger fulfill a crucial role in today's society by providing independent information on pressing contemporary human rights and social issues. Their success as storytellers depends on access to those men and women willing to talk on camera. If the subjects of those documentaries are fearful of the ramifications of telling the truth then the filmmaker has no story.

Without a shield law, there is no recognized journalist/filmmaker/source protection, creating the very scenario we have now. The judges in this case must recognize this is first and foremost a first amendment issue. The higher courts need to overturn the decision and adhere to higher standards of journalistic privilege.

If we allow the voice of the independent artist to be stifled we should expect nothing less than extreme repercussions for freedom of information...and freedom in general.

You can support Berlinger's legal efforts by going here.

Robert Redford is the Founder and President of Sundance Institute, a non-profit arts organization which supports independent artists worldwide.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

NY Times: Media Companies Join Filmmaker in Opposing Chevron

This article appeared on the New York Times "ArtsBeat" blog yesterday:

Media Companies File Brief on Behalf of Filmmaker in Chevron Case

A group of 13 media companies has filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Joe Berlinger, the documentary filmmaker who is appealing a federal district court’s ruling that the oil company Chevron can subpoena the outtakes from his film “Crude.”

The brief, filed Tuesday in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Manhattan, by the lawyer Floyd Abrams, and which was joined by others, including NBC Universal, the Directors Guild of America, HBO and The New York Times Company, says the work of these companies “will be seriously jeopardized” by the district court’s decision and its effect on journalist’s privilege.

Last month, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of Federal District court in Manhattan ruled that Mr. Berlinger would have to turn over more than 600 hours of footage from “Crude,” his documentary about the Ecuadorians who sued Texaco (now owned by Chevron), accusing it of contaminating their water. Chevron said Mr. Berlinger’s footage could be helpful to the company as it seeks to have the suit dismissed and pursues an international treaty arbitration related to the litigation.

The brief says the district court’s ruling “was fundamentally flawed” in its interpretation of the 1999 case Gonzales v. NBC, in which the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that even confidential materials can be released if they are likely to be relevant to a significant issue in the case and are not reasonably obtainable elsewhere.

The brief said:

a party seeking to compel production of such materials must make a somewhat less demanding showing than for confidential information — but a showing that is, nonetheless, still significantly more substantial than the burden on a litigant seeking ordinary garden-variety discovery.

Judge Kaplan’s ruling, the brief said, “effectively shifted the burden of alleged unfairness onto the filmmakers, rendering this circuit’s requirement of a relevance showing meaningless,” and “made it far too easy for Chevron to obtain far too much, precisely what Gonzales forbids.”

On May 21 Judge Denny Chin of the appellate court ordered a hearing on June 8 to consider a subpoena and stayed the subpoena until that hearing.

The friend-of-the-court brief can be found here. The 13 companies that joined it are ABC, The Associated Press, CBS Broadcasting, the Daily News, the Directors Guild of America, Dow Jones & Company, Gannett Company, Hearst Corporation, Home Box Office, the International Documentary Association, NBC Universal, The New York Times Company and The Washington Post.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Pat Murphy: Chevron’s Bogus Blogger Up to Old Tricks

Surprise, surprise: Pat Murphy, purveyor of the (a small online "newspaper" that sells editorial control of its opinions while pretending to offer neutral commentary) is once again carrying Chevron's water in the company's never-ending campaign to escape justice for its environmental catastrophe in Ecuador.

Pat Murphy

This time, Murphy has attacked the indigenous people of Ecuador suing Chevron for having the temerity to characterize Chevron's man-made, planned disaster in Ecuador as larger than BP's accidental spill in the Gulf. In Ecuador, Chevron discharged the equivalent of at least 345 million gallons of crude into the rainforest where six indigenous groups lived for centuries. Due to Chevron, all of those indigenous groups have seen their lifestyles devastated – not dissimilar to what is happening right now to the fisherman of Louisiana.

The U.S. government's most recent estimate is that BP has discharged between 18 and 39 million gallons of crude into the Gulf. At the top end, that's about one-tenth as large as the dumping Chevron did in Ecuador when its predecessor company Texaco operated a large oil concession from 1964 to 1990. Texaco's sludge, now Chevron's problem, is still there: Take a look at photos of the contamination and its impacts.

The question for Murphy is: Why is it a tragedy when 18 to 39 million gallons of contamination are spilled in America, but Chevron is getting "defrauded" when people call attention to 345 million gallons the company systematically dumped in Ecuador?

The answer is simple: Because in the world according to Chevron, Ecuadorian lives aren't worth much – particularly when they are indigenous people living in the forest. And, of course, BP isn't paying Pat Murphy to spread their propaganda while Chevron is.

Amazon Watch and the Amazon Defense Coalition have demonstrated that Pat Murphy is a paid blogger who has sold editorial control of his website to Chevron – an accusation that Murphy has never denied. (He once stated that he was not being paid directly by Chevron.) Over the past two years Murphy has offered a steady stream of commentary and misleading facts meant to discredit Chevron's critics – critics that Chevron is working hard to silence. And if you are Googling the Chevron case in Ecuador from Rotterdam or some other far-flung place, you might actually think the "San Francisco Sentinel" is the leading newspaper of San Francisco rather than one of the least-trafficked news sites on the Web (it ranked 171,939 in popularity among websites, compared to 851 for the San Francisco Chronicle).

Of course, the practice of blogging or writing articles on behalf of clients without disclosing payments is considered highly unethical. But that's never stopped Murphy before, and we don't expect it to stop him now. When you lay down with dogs, as Murphy has with Chevron, you get fleas.

If Murphy really wants to understand the issues in Ecuador – and not just squander any semblance of journalistic integrity that he might have once had (or thought he had) – we would invite him to visit the impacted region. If Murphy had to drink the poisoned water being forced on the local inhabitants because of Chevron, he might be slower to take what amounts to "blood money" to help cover up an environmental and human rights tragedy that is unparalleled on Earth.

Tragic BP Gulf Spill Casts Light on Chevron Disaster in Ecuador

The Amazon Defense Coalition put out this release today:

Tragic BP Gulf Spill Casts Light on Chevron Disaster in Ecuador

While BP Is Largest Spill In U.S.,Chevron's Ecuador Disaster Is Largest In World

Chevron Admits Dumping at Least 16 Billion Gallons of Toxic Waste into Rainforest

SAN FRANCISCO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--As the nation remains riveted on the tragic BP spill unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, Chevron still holds the record for creating the world's largest oil-related contamination and it happened deliberately in the populated Amazon rainforest in an even more sensitive ecosystem than the marshes of Louisiana.

Chevron's illegal oil-related dumping is at the root of a class action lawsuit in Ecuador where the oil giant now faces more than $27 billion in damages for poisoning an area the size of Rhode Island with 18.5 billion gallons of toxic "produced water," or more than 474 times the amount of contamination estimated to have been spilled in the Gulf of Mexico tragedy, according to calculations made by representatives of the plaintiffs.

Chevron's contamination has decimated the traditional lifestyles of five indigenous groups in the area, and one group has disappeared, according to the lawsuit. The pollution occurred when Texaco (now owned by Chevron) was the exclusive operator of a large oil concession in the rainforest from 1964 to 1990.

A 17-year trial against Chevron taking place in Ecuador's courts – moved there from U.S. federal court in 2002 at Chevron's request – is expected to end later this year. Chevron has declared the trial court is "biased" against it and has announced it will not pay any adverse judgment.

The plaintiffs in the trial are tens of thousands of rainforest residents, including the surviving members of indigenous groups called the Secoya, Cofan, Siona, Huarani, and Kichwa.

These are the facts of Chevron's dumping in the Amazon and how it compares to the BP spill in the Gulf:

  • In the 1970s, Chevron's predecessor company Texaco (bought by Chevron in 2001) perforated hundreds of oil wells across a 2,000 sq-mile swath of rainforest that was home to the indigenous groups. The area where Chevron operated is one of the most biodiverse in the world, containing almost 10% of the world's plant species.
  • Instead of re-injecting toxic "produced water" (which contains high levels of salt, pure crude, and the carcinogen benzene) deep into the ground – the industry practice then recommended by the American Petroleum Institute – Chevron dumped 18 billion gallons of it into rivers and streams. These waters had been used thousands of years by the local population for its drinking water.
  • The BP tragedy was an accident; Chevron's discharge in Ecuador was deliberate.
  • Chevron, as reported by 60 Minutes last year, also built more than 900 unlined waste pits to permanently store toxic sludge – another violation of industry standards. It then built pipes to drain the sludge into nearby streams.
  • Chevron also burned gas without controls, creating enormous air pollution and a "black rain" phenomenon in the rainforest.

These facts have been documented in numerous testimonies, in more than 200,000 pages of trial evidence, and in the book Amazon Crude written by law professor Judith Kimerling and published in 1991 just before Texaco fled the country in 1992, according to representatives of the plaintiffs.

Experts have concluded that the Chevron discharged at least 345 million gallons of pure crude oil directly into the rainforest ecosystem, including 17 million from ruptured pipelines. To put this in perspective, the U.S. government has estimated that between 18 and 39 million gallons have been spilled thus far in BP's disaster in the Gulf, and approximately 11 million gallons of pure crude was spilled during the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Just like BP in the Gulf spill, Chevron continually tries to obfuscate the facts and cover up its responsibility in Ecuador:

  • In 1972, a Chevron executive issued a memo ordering that all documents in Ecuador documenting oil spills be destroyed.
  • Chevron claims it was "released" from further clean-up responsibility based on a "release" signed with the Government of Ecuador. But Chevron's "remediation" was a fraud. Evidence presented at trial shows that the small number of pits "remediated" are still as contaminated as sites not touched.
  • As a result of Chevron's fraudulent "remediation," two company lawyers and ten former Ecuadorian government officials are now under indictment in Ecuador for lying about the clean-up results.
  • During the trial in Ecuador, lawyers for the plaintiffs have been subjected to death threats, a Nixon-style dirty tricks campaign to remove a judge, and the use of junk science by Chevron "experts."
  • Chevron claims high cancer rates are caused not by exposure to toxins, but by the poor personal hygiene among the local population.
  • Chevron also has tried to silence its Ecuador critics – pressuring media outlets to deny advertising about the company's human rights problems and even going as far to have five people arrested at its shareholder meeting last week.

For photos of this horrible disaster, click here, or get the book Crude Reflections by Lou Dematteis and Kayana Szymczak. A complete summary of the evidence can be found here. For Chevron's lies, click here. To purchase a copy of an award winning documentary film about the case, "Crude," click here. For the latest developments, see

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Chevron’s Watson To Feds: Stop Us Before We Hurt Somebody

From a recent Dow Jones article: Chevron Corp. (CVX) Chief Executive John Watson said that the oil and gas industry has asked the U.S. government to raise safety standards for offshore drilling in order to avoid another "tragedy" like the massive spill that is still threatening the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.

In other words: "Stop us before we hurt somebody."

Watson's remarks are an astonishing admission from an oil industry CEO. He's acknowledging that oil companies are incapable of ensuring safe operations and conceding they will maximize profits and compromise safety standards unless the government steps in.

But Watson knows exactly what he is talking about – the damage that he is talking about is exactly what Chevron caused in Ecuador, an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions. Left to its own devices, Chevron put profits ahead of the safety of indigenous groups and the pristine environment of the Amazonian rainforest from the moment it landed its first helicopter in 1964 until it exited the country in 1992. By using substandard exploration and safety measures, Chevron "saved" an estimated $8 billion during three decades of exploitive oil drilling and exploration. This "savings" has resulted in the devastation of thousands of lives, an outbreak of cancer, and the decimation of indigenous groups.

The New York Times reported recently on a BP memo that admitted the oil company elected to use a cheaper type of cement casing system around the "blowout preventer" that experts believe may have prevented the explosion and the resulting spill. Texaco made a similar decision in Ecuador in the 1970s when it decided to not spend the $4 million at each of its well sites necessary to implement proper safety measures, such as the lining of toxic waste pits. Instead, Texaco's preferred method in the impoverished rainforest could be described quite simply: "dig and dump."

Instead of re-injecting deep into the ground the oil and toxic waste water left over from drilling well sites, as was the industry standard in the United States since at least 1962, Texaco dug over 900 huge holes in the ground and dumped a deadly mix of oil, chemicals and minerals into the unlined oil pits. Recent testing during the trial at about 100 of these oil pits and well sites revealed illegal and unacceptable levels of contamination that continue to leech into the ground, polluting the soil and water that the indigenous tribes and other Ecuadorians living in the area depend on for their survival.

The deadly consequences stemming from putting profits ahead of safety is a lesson that Chevron learned all too well in Ecuador. BP is now learning the same hard lesson in the Gulf. The question is whether either company will be held accountable.