Chevron has already lost the lawsuit filed against the company by a group of Indigenous villagers and rural Ecuadorians who say Texaco, which merged with Chevron in 2001, left behind hundreds of open, unlined pits full of toxic oil waste it had dug into the floor of the Amazon rainforest.
That hasn’t stopped the oil titan from attempting to retry the case, though, in both the court of public opinion and a New York court, where it counter-sued the Ecuadorian plaintiffs under the RICO Act, claiming their original lawsuit was nothing more than extortion.
But new videos released by an anonymous Chevron whistleblower undermine the company’s entire defense in the original suit as well as its RICO counterattack.
Chevron’s defense in the Ecuador pollution case hinges on the company’s assertion that, before leaving the country when its partnership with state-owned Petroecuador ended in the early 1990s, Texaco remediated a portion of the 350 drill sites and more than 900 associated waste pits, as per its agreement with the Ecuadorean government.
The Ecuadorian plaintiffs argue that, as the sole operator of those drilling operations, Chevron/Texaco is liable for the carcinogenic oil contamination of watercourses, soil and groundwater that leached out of the waste pits and overflowed into local streams and rivers. After inheriting Texaco’s liability, Chevron countered that it had fulfilled its obligations per the terms of its partnership and that the plaintiffs’ real target should be Petroecuador, which Chevron blames for the pollution.
In 2011, Chevron lost the court battle in Ecuador — the venue Chevron itself chose — and was ordered to pay $9.5 billion to clean up its oil pollution in the Amazon. But Chevron had already infamously vowed “We will fight until hell freezes over and then fight it out on the ice,” and the company has been true to its word. Only now has evidence emerged to show just how dirty Chevron was fighting.
“These videos prove Chevron knew full well their ‘remediated’ sites were still contaminated before the trial in Ecuador had even finished,” Amazon Watch’s Paul Paz said in a statement to DeSmogBlog. “Rather than admit that and help people who would be affected, they hid what they knew and denied it to the courts and to the world. Worse than that, they went on to blame the very same people affected by their waste as making it all up to extort money from Chevron.”
One video from March 2005, when the trial in Ecuador was ongoing, shows Chevron contractors examining a core sample and finding petroleum at a well site that Texaco claimed to have remediated. When a worker named Dave tells a Chevron employee named Rene about the discovery, Rene jokingly chastises the worker, saying, “Nice job, Dave. Give you one simple task: Don’t find petroleum.” (Skip to the 1:40 mark in the video below.)
In a press release, Amazon Watch, which first received the videos along with a note signed “A friend from Chevron,” says that the video shows Rene, the Chevron employee, and several Chevron consultants visiting the well site to perform a “pre-inspection,” an attempt to find uncontaminated spots where they could take soil and water samples during site inspections set to happen later with the presiding trial judge in attendance.
The Ecuadorian plaintiffs maintained all along that Texaco had not cleaned the well sites at all, but in many cases simply pushed dirt on top of the waste pits and left. Another one of Chevron’s pre-inspection videos included an interview with a local woman named Merla who lives near one of the well sites Texaco claimed to have remediated. Merla tells the Chevron interviewer just how drastic an impact Texaco’s oil pollution has had on her and her family:
Merla: We’ve had our cows die…. They drank the water where the oil had spilled. Back then, that whole area was full of crude oil. The water there was filthy. They came and stopped the leak and they just left all of the crude oil there. It’s pure crude there. In the middle, it’s a thick ooze and you’d sink right down into it.
Chevron Interviewer: When was this oil spill?
Merla: More than 20 years ago… But I still remember it, how there was oil over everything. The cows still die there. They came, threw some dirt on top of the crude oil, and there it stayed.
Chevron Interviewer: How long ago did they cover up the pit?
Merla: 19 years… Texaco. They came here and just covered up the oil. They kept saying they were going to clean it up and they never did. And then they disappeared.
Chevron Interviewer: Did they remove the crude oil?
Merla: They dumped a lot of dirt on it and that was it.
“Chevron has spent hundreds of millions to counter attack their own victims and try to sow doubt in their claims,” Paz says in his statement. “What these videos prove is that their retaliation is built on a complete lie.”
Chevron has refused to pay the $9.5 billion judgement, even after appealing to Ecuador’s highest courts and losing every time. Paz says there is no doubt these videos will come into play in the legal efforts undertaken by the Ecuadorian plaintiffs to seize Chevron assets in Canada and elsewhere. “No matter how [Chevron] tries to spin these videos,” he says, “they clearly show their own representatives finding contamination where they insist there is none.”
The provenance of the videos is not in doubt, as Chevron’s lawyers with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher acknowledge their authenticity in a letter seeking the videos’ return that was shared with DeSmogBlog.
Chevron secured a favorable ruling in its RICO suit last year from Judge Lewis Kaplan of the Southern District of New York, meaning the company’s US assets cannot be seized to pay off its debt in Ecuador. But if Chevron’s own records show that it had not remediated the well sites and waste pits, that completely erodes its claim that the case against it in Ecuador was not valid, Paz says.
“The RICO complaint doesn’t stand regardless of the videos, because it’s based on corrupt testimony from paid witnesses, but the videos expose that Chevron simply fabricated the RICO case since they knew for a fact they were liable in Ecuador for that remediation.”
Image Credit: “Oil pollution in Lago Agrio, November 2007” via Wikimedia Commons