Thursday, March 3, 2011

Scapegoating Petroecuador – A Key Chevron Strategy to Evade Justice for Its Ecuadorian Mess

One of Chevron’s key legal strategies to evade justice in Ecuador has been to scapegoat Petroecuador - the state owned oil company. This argument is nothing more than an attempt to sidestep responsibility and whitewash history. Let’s explain this a bit more.

So, Chevron has argued to both U.S. and Ecuadorian courts that Petroecuador is the only party responsible for the devastating environmental damage to rainforest. As plaintiffs submitted in their final argument to the Ecuadorian court, there is no support in law or fact for this.

Petroecuador took over Chevron’s predecessor Texaco’s operations in 1990. The facts are clear that it was Chevron’s predecessor – Texaco – that dumped 16 to 18 billions of gallons of contaminated and highly toxic chemicals directly into the soil, groundwater and surface water in Ecuador and caused an environmental disaster that continues to plague the region.

It is also crucial to note that this case was originally filed in the United States in 1993, shortly after Petroecuador had taken over the Chevron sites for more on the historic trial. At that time, there was no possible way Chevron could have argued that anyone but Chevron was responsible for the environmental catastrophe in Ecuador. However, Chevron succeeded in challenging the jurisdiction of the U.S. courts, a process that took almost an entire decade until the case was re-filed in Ecuador. Chevron has used this slow march to justice as an excuse to scapegoat Petroecuador.

The facts do not support Chevron’s argument that Petroecuador is solely to blame for several reasons:
  • Sites operated by Chevron only and closed before Petroecuador became operator contain illegal levels of toxic materials, in violation of Ecuadorian laws.

  • The vast majority of contamination at well sites occurs during the drilling and development (not once production starts), and the Ecuadorians’ lawsuit incorporates only well sites and stations built and operated by Chevron.

  • Petroecuador inherited Chevron’s sub-standard and faulty infrastructure designed with the intention of releasing toxins into the environment. Chevron’s subsequent abandonment of its facilities does not absolve it of liability.

  • Petroecuador made dramatic improvements in Chevron’s prior environmental practices in virtually every respect, including building re-injection wells to pump the wastewater back into the ground, instead of dumping it directly in the rainforest as Texaco did. Petroecuador also stopped using unlined pits for permanent storage of the toxic sludge and developed an oil spill reporting and management system, something Chevron never did.

For more on the plaintiff’s final argument presenting overwhelming scientific evidence of Chevron’s mess in Ecuador go here.

It is baseless and cynical for Chevron to claim that it bears no responsibility for one of the largest environmental disasters in history. Its attempts to evade justice by scapegoating Petroecuador is nothing more than part of a craven attempt to sidestep responsibility and whitewash history.

No one else is to blame for Chevron’s environmental transgressions.