Monday, January 24, 2011

Evidence Shatters Chevron's Defense in World's Largest Oil Contamination Case

Enviro Bloggers Focus Attention on Oil Giant’s Misconduct

The Ecuadorians suing Chevron for the world’s largest oil contamination disaster have submitted the first part of their final written argument to the Ecuador court, outlining the evidence that clearly demonstrates Chevron's liability in the $113 billion environmental damages lawsuit and the fraud behind the company's primary defense of remediation.

court filing -- called an "alegato" in Ecuador -- details in exacting detail how evidence gathered by independent experts, the plaintiffs, and from Chevron itself proves the case against the oil company. Read the summary and press release about the argument. The lawsuit was first filed in U.S. federal court in 1993 but was shifted to Ecuador at Chevron's request. The plaintiffs are tens of thousands of persons who live in area of Ecuador where Chevron operated several large oil fields from 1964 to 1990, reaping excess profits by using substandard practices.

Meanwhile, several environmental bloggers are shedding some much-needed light on the oil giant’s misconduct. Read the Huffington Post blog Huffington Post blog, Mother Jones, the WonkRoom and ChevroninEcuador.

Joanna Zelman of the Huffington Post wrote:

Could there be enough "overwhelming" evidence against Chevron to merit a payment of over $100 billion? Tens of thousands of Ecuador's residents are the plaintiff in an environmental damages lawsuit against Chevron, and they believe the evidence speaks loud and clear….”

Responding to Chevron’s efforts to distract attention away from the contamination with accusations of corruption against the Ecuadorian court, Han Shan of ChevroninEcuador wrote:

But here we are with the final arguments, and the judge deliberating on a decision that is widely expected to be delivered this year. The plaintiffs have brought on DC mega law firm Patton Boggs and high-profile lawyer James Tyrrell, who vows that the plaintiffs will be able to enforce a judgment against Chevron and win major damages to be put to environmental cleanup and healthcare in their communities.”

Wonk Room's Brad Johnson headlined his blog with, "Chevron, Under Pressure For Destruction of Amazon, Was Top Lobbyist Last Quarter," He wrote: "Chevron, responsible for a multi-billion-dollar environmental disaster in Ecuador, is instead spending millions to shore up political support and to evade the clean up." Senate disclsoure forms reveal that oil giant Chevron spent $2.9 million lobbying the federal government last quarter, eclipsing even Exxon ($2.6 million) and BP ($2.2 million)."

Chevron has long argued, as its primary defense at trial, that a "remediation" conducted between 1995-98 released it from any responsibility. Despite Chevron’s claims, a summary of the plaintiff’s alegato concludes the legal release used by Chevron as a result of that remediation is "null and void" because it was based on numerous false and misleading representations by the company. Instead of actually cleaning up the waste in the area, the limited “remediation” was largely accomplished by simply covering a small number of waste pits with dirt and then using an inappropriate laboratory test that counted only a fraction of the actual contamination to “prove” that the remediation had been effective.

"The evidence makes it clear and unmistakable that Chevron is guilty," the summary of the alegato concludes. "Guilty of polluting the rainforest with toxic sludge from lucrative oil drilling operations, guilty of a shoddy and haphazard cleanup operation, guilty of letting toxic waste continue to devastate the rainforest and its inhabitants' lives, and perhaps worst of all, guilty of trying to cover it all up by destroying documents and making false accusations of fraud before courts in the U.S. and Ecuador."

The document concludes that Chevron is responsible for ongoing contamination that is harming the environment and human health to this day, even though the company fled Ecuador in the early 1990s and stripped its assets out of the country. The main arguments are as follows:

  • Chevron treated the environment "recklessly" and deliberately disposed of billions of gallons of toxic waste into rivers and streams over the 26-year period that it operated a large oil concession in Ecuador's Amazon region. "These lax operational practices have had a devastating impact on the rainforest ecosystem and its inhabitants," according to the document.

  • Chevron dumped more than 16 billion gallons of chemical-laden "produced water" into streams and rivers over 70 years after the industry had stopped the practice in the United States due to its damaging environmental impacts.

  • Chevron built and then abandoned more than 900 toxic waste pits filled with oil drilling byproducts such as barium, heavy metals, chloride, and acid -- all of which need extensive remediation.

  • Chevron polluted the air by flaring gas with no controls, spilled thousands of barrels of oil, had no spill response plan, and ordered the destruction of records documenting oil spills.
The plaintiff’s "alegato" also found that "there is irrefutable evidence of contamination" at every one of Chevron's 45 well and oil production sites inspected by the parties during the trial phase of the case in the affected area, which is 1,500 square miles in size and covers a swath of rainforest roughly the size of Rhode Island. The chemicals and compounds found -- all of which are toxic and some of which are known carcinogens -- include barium, benzene, cadmium, chromium, copper, etheylbenzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, vanadium, xylene, and zinc.

The alegato also explains how it is Chevron -- not PetroEcuador -- that is responsible for the contamination given that the vast majority of pollution occurred at the time Chevron's 356 well sites were drilled and operated by the American company. The legal concept of "joint and several liability" also imposes on Chevron responsibility for 100% of the damage it caused because of the substandard system it built and operated.

The submission is the first of three parts. The second and third parts -- which deal with damages and issues relating to due process -- will be released in the coming days. Earlier damages assessment reports submitted by the plaintiffs found the company could be liable for up to $113 billion in costs.

Chevron submitted its alegato to the Ecuador court in early January.