Pressure Mounts on ChevronTexaco to Confront its Responsibility for the "Rainforest Chernobyl"
$6 Billion in Potential Liability For World's Largest Oil Disaster
26 April 2004 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
Rising Tide of Institutional Investors Call on CEO David O'Reilly to Report on Environmental Impacts of An Eco-Disaster Said to Be Far Worse Than Exxon Valdez
Human Rights Campaigner Bianca Jagger Calls on CEO to Remedy This Catastrophe: "Whilst Mr. O'Reilly is Stalling, People Are Dying In the Ecuadorian Amazon"
After Years of Suffering, Indigenous Chief Will Finally Face Down O'Reilly In Person On Wednesday
San Ramon, CA - As ChevronTexaco prepares for its Annual Shareholder Meeting on Wednesday, April 28th at its bucolic suburban office park outside of San Francisco, a host of players are moving closer to creating a "tipping point" to force the petroleum giant to confront its responsibility for the "Rainforest Chernobyl" that it systematically created in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Residents estimate that at least several dozen persons in the zone where Texaco operated for two decades have died of cancer and other diseases related to the massive contamination, which began when Texaco carved 627 open-air toxic waste pits out of the soil. Waste from the pits has spread over many years to contaminate the groundwater, rivers, and streams on which the 30,000 residents (including five indigenous groups) depend for water. Among the latest developments:
- A rising tide of institutional investors, spearheaded by Trillium Asset Management, are calling on the ChevronTexaco Board to report on the health and environmental impacts of its Ecuadorian operations.
- Internationally renowned human rights campaigner Bianca Jagger has joined the campaign to make ChevronTexaco accountable for its Ecuadorian operations. Ms. Jagger is spending the week in San Ramon meeting with community leaders and she will address ChevronTexaco CEO O'Reilly at the Shareholder Meeting on Wednesday.
- Indigenous Chief, Toribio Aguinda, President of the Cofan Nation, which numbered 15,000 when the first Texaco well was built on their territory and now number less than 800, will finally have the opportunity to face down O'Reilly in person at the Shareholder Meeting.
- Rosa Moreno, a nurse from the tiny Ecuadorian town of San Carlos, will also address O'Reilly about the devastation that cancers have wrought on her own family and members of her small community.
- Local organizations including San Ramon Cares About Ecuador and the Contra Costa Labor Council have mobilized around the "Clean Up Ecuador" campaign and will rally outside the Wednesday Shareholder Meeting and host a welcoming press conference for Ms. Jagger on Tuesday morning in San Ramon at the community center.
- Ad executive Larry Kopald has created a hard-hitting, multi-media campaign that will break in San Ramon in the coming weeks.
While ChevronTexaco defends itself in a remote courthouse in the jungle town of Lago Agrio, Ecuador where the stakes are high - the Ecuadorian court decision and a potential multi-billion dollar judgment will be binding and enforceable in the U.S. - the company is under siege on the home front from growing coalition of individuals and organizations seeking justice for the Ecuadorian atrocities. A preliminary report of damages caused by the company, released during the trial by oil remediation expert David Russell (phone: 770-923-4408) puts the clean-up costs at a minimum of $6.14 billion, not including potential compensation to individuals for health and economic impacts.
A Humanitarian Crisis
"ChevronTexaco is responsible for the worst oil-related disaster in history, a disaster that dwarfs the Exxon Valdez in scale," said Bianca Jagger. "Instead of a single, dramatic spill that captured headlines around the world, what happened in Ecuador was far more stealth and insidious. Over the course of 20 years, Texaco slowly poisoned the residents of the Oriente Region by dumping toxic waste and crude oil into the water systems. None of my past experiences as a human rights campaigner prepared me for the environmental devastation I witnessed in the provinces of Orellana y Sucumbios. Nor was I prepared for the sad stories of human suffering and the heightened incidents of cancer and spontaneous abortions."
Ms. Jagger continued, "ChevronTexaco's drilling practices in Ecuador constitute an environmental crime of apocalyptic proportions. And, David O'Reilly is legally and morally responsible to remediate the damage and restore the rainforest environment. I have joined with the rainforest people and a wide network of human rights organizations to ensure that international attention is focused on this situation and that justice prevails."
During its two decades of operations in Ecuador (from 1971 to 1992), Texaco (now ChevronTexaco) dumped more than 50% more oil into the rainforest environment than that spilled during the Exxon Valdez disaster off the coast of Alaska, which resulted in a $5 billion judgment after a jury trial. At the height of its operations in Ecuador, ChevronTexaco was dumping some 4.3 million gallons per day of toxic oil wastewater into open pits, estuaries, and rivers (this wastewater contains 500 to 5000 parts per million of pure oil as well as cancer-causing heavy metals). The total amount of wastewater dumped into Ecuador's rainforest was 464,766,540 barrels, or roughly 18.5 billion gallons (one barrel contains 40 gallons).
ChevronTexaco also left behind approximately 350 open waste pits contaminated with heavy metals and other carcinogenic compounds, some of which exist only a few feet from the homes of residents.
Recent epidemiological studies, including one conducted under the auspices of the prestigious London School of Tropical Medicine, indicate skyrocketing rates of cancer and other health problems in the area where Texaco drilled. The primary reason is that residents have no source of drinking water other than the swamps and rivers that were used by Texaco for the disposal of toxic wastewater that is the byproduct of oil drilling. In the United States and other countries in the world, this toxic wastewater is reinjected deep into the ground where it cannot impact the environment.
Representatives from institutions holding more than $360 million of ChevronTexaco stock have already completed a week-long Ecuadorian fact-finding mission where they toured affected areas, and met with area residents, representatives of the Ecuadorian and U.S. governments, and ChevronTexaco. The delegation included representatives from Trillium Asset Management, New York State Common Retirement Fund, Dominican Sisters of San Rafael and Sisters of Mercy of Burlingame. Trillium Asset Management is the lead sponsor of a shareholder resolution that directs ChevronTexaco to issue a report on the environmental and health impacts of ChevronTexaco's Ecuadorian operations.
The delegation visited a number of waste pits, wells and water sources. "None of the sites that we visited were clean and none appeared to be adequately remediated," said Shelley Alpern, Director of Social Research & Advocacy for Trillium. "We observed and photographed open waste pits of various sizes, some quite large, filled with a viscous, tar-like substance. We saw ponds, rivers and streams polluted by contaminants from drilling and other development."
The delegation heard testimony from numerous residents describing a region whose waterways had been slowly poisoned with the byproducts of oil drilling, causing a rise in cancers, birth defects, respiratory infections, skin and stomach ailments, and mysterious deaths. "At a clinic in San Carlos, the staff nurse told us of a baby, one and a half years old, who was losing its fingernails; it was being bathed in the river as no source of clean water is available," said Alpern. "Another little girl had lost her hair. She was embarrassed to go school because it frightened the other children."
Residents attested to a 70% decline in agricultural productivity. In addition to contaminating groundwater, the waste pits also traps livestock and pets that are not easily rescued. Many drown in the oil muck.
Trillium Asset, together with other investors, will attend ChevronTexaco's annual meeting to present its Shareholder Resolution and raise awareness of the scope of ChevronTexaco's devastation.
Finally, the Opportunity to Confront David O'Reilly
After losing thousands of members of his rainforest community to cancer, watching helplessly as billions of gallons of toxic waste decimated his homeland, and pleading for more than a decade with ChevronTexaco to use part of its $25 billion of Ecuadorian profits to clean up its cancer-causing poison, Toribio Aguinda, President of the Cofan Nation, will finally have the opportunity to confront Mr. O'Reilly. His people, the Cofan, numbered 15,000 when Texaco first came to his territory to drill. The Cofan now number less than 800. Four other indigenous cultures are on the brink of collapse.
"We come to San Ramon to plead with Mr. O'Reilly to visit our territory," said Mr. Aguinda. "If he could only see with his own eyes the destruction that Texaco created, we know that he would do the right thing and clean up."
For the indigenous people of the rainforest, the April 28th Shareholder Meeting is their first opportunity to speak directly to O'Reilly and ChevronTexaco's board. Their previous entreaties have been ignored or referred to company lawyers.
The local San Ramon community has rallied to support the Ecuadorian's fight against ChevronTexaco. Religious and labor leaders conducted their own fact-finding mission to Ecuador in October of 2003. San Ramon Cares About Ecuador will announce shortly a delegation of high school students who will tour the sites of Texaco's operations and meet with affected people.
The O'Reilly Factor
In the coming weeks, ad executive Larry Kopald, who has been named one the people who is changing the world by Esquire Magazine, will unleash a multi-media campaign targeted to the San Ramon community that features the tagline, "O'Reilly is stalling, and people are dying." Amazon Watch expects to execute ad buys on local cable and in local print media.
Begun in October 2003, after ChevronTexaco was forced by a U.S. court to accept jurisdiction in the Ecuadorian town of Lago Agrio, the trial is one of the most important legal cases in the world involving the impact of globalization on indigenous rights and the environment. Brought by five indigenous groups and 80 communities, the case - called Aguinda v. ChevronTexaco - has the potential to set a precedent that could benefit millions of persons by establishing a higher standard of oil development in fragile ecosystems. It also has the potential to change the dynamics of how justice systems are used by historically weak people against powerful multinational companies.
The case is historic in that it represents the first time a multinational oil company has been forced to answer charges of this nature in the court of a developing nation with a decision enforceable in the United States.
Currently, the trial has entered the Judicial Inspections phase where the Judge will personally inspect many of the open pits. A decision at the trial level is expected in 2005, and a final judgment after appeals will take another two years. A settlement could end the case much sooner, but thus far the company has rejected attempts to engage in serious negotiations. Question about the legal status of the case should be posed to Steven Donziger, one of the U.S.-based lawyers (phone: 917-566-2526).