Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Look Back At Key Devastating Facts Chronicling Chevron’s Environmental Mess In Ecuador

No one is to blame for Chevron’s crimes in the Amazon but the company itself. For that reason, and in light of the recent historic court decision handed down in Ecuador, we felt it imperative to provide a brief summary of Chevron’s worst offenses.

Chevron dumped chemical-laden water into natural streams and rivers.

Chevron dumped approximately 16 billions gallons of “produced water”—water extracted from the ground during oil drilling that is loaded with toxic chemicals—into jungle soils and streams near its well sites. At each of its processing stations, Chevron built large pipes that drained directly into nearby streams and rivers. At the time it was dumping this toxic water into the rainforest, the evidence shows that Chevron was well aware of its dangerous effects and had developed technologies to minimize its risks. It refused to apply any of those technologies in Ecuador. In fact, Chevron was still dumping produced water directly into streams and rivers in Ecuador over 70 years after the industry had stopped the practice in the United States due to its damaging environmental effects.

View this video of a former Chevron employee in Ecuador explaining how oil workers were told to dump toxic waste directly into the rainforest environment.

Chevron dug unlined earthen pits and filled them with a “toxic soup of oil drilling byproducts.”

Chevron dug approximately 900 open, unlined, earthen pits and filled them with “drilling muds”—a toxic soup of oil drilling byproducts that includes barium, heavy metals (e.g., chromium, lead, and zinc), chloride, petroleum compounds, and acid. It dumped these chemical-laden byproducts despite knowing they were a source of pollution and had a disastrous environmental impact. In fact, the petroleum industry had generally stopped this practice in the 1940s. As one eyewitness to this practice recalled:

“[W]hen the petroleum came out, part of it was scattered at the beginning of the platform, and another part went to the pits with sand; once in the pit it was set on fire, burning the surrounding woods; the petroleum on the platform went straight to rivers and estuaries.”

Although Chevron was well aware its pits filled with oil drilling byproducts were leaking into the soil and groundwater, it did nothing in order to save money. Letters discovered during the litigation clearly show that Chevron made a conscious choice not to fix its outdated and outmoded toxic pits that continued to dump chemicals into the rainforest. A 1980 letter between a Chevron (then Texaco) District Superintendent and an engineer states determines that the costs of more environmentally safer alternatives including installing steel pits or digging new pits and coating them would be too costly.

Chevron spilled thousands of barrels of oil.

Chevron failed to maintain or monitor its oil pipelines in the region, which resulted in many oil leaks and spills going undetected with no cleanup effort. The Big Oil company spilled at least 26,400 barrels of oil, most due to a lack of preventative maintenance on its equipment. Chevron did not have a spill prevention or response plan. Rather than clean up its spills, Chevron simply covered them with sand.

Chevron polluted the air.

In addition to contaminating the soil, groundwater, and streams in the rainforest, Chevron also polluted the air. Chevron disregarded accepted industry methods and technologies to reduce harmful air pollution and instead vented large quantities of gas directly into the atmosphere. Chevron used a practice called “horizontal flaring” which was a disfavored practice in the United States by the 1950s. This practice resulted in large plumes of black smoke that choked the life out of the region.

There is lot more on these devastating facts and on how Chevron tried to cover up its hideous environmental practices in the plaintiff’s final argument presenting overwhelming scientific evidence of Chevron’s mess in Ecuador. Chevron can waste millions of dollars obscuring their crimes. But they will never change the facts.