Affected Communities Claim Chevron Dumped 30 Times More Oil than Exxon Valdez onto Lands
18 October 2005 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
Quito, Ecuador - The latest results from Chevron's historic rainforest trial in Ecuador show the oil giant continues to lose ground to a group of indigenous tribes and jungle communities who have brought the first-ever environmental case against an American company in a rainforest court.
Chevron is being sued for at least $6 billion in clean-up costs for what experts believe is the worst oil-related contamination in the world, caused by Texaco`s operation of a former concession in Ecuador's rainforest from 1964 to 1990. Texaco admits to dumping 18.5 billion gallons of toxic water of formation into the rainforest, but claims the practice adhered to industry standards and was legal. Five indigenous groups live in the area, and three say they are on the verge of extinction from losing their land and population to oil-related contamination.
The most recent results of the scientific inspections from 18 separate well sites of the estimated 350 operated by Texaco have been reported to the court in the town of Lago Agrio, just south of Colombia in Ecuador's Oriente region. Of 762 water and soil samples analyzed by laboratories, 479 - or 63% -- violate Ecuador law regulating petroleum activity in Ecuador. Chevron's own sampling has produced devastating proof against itself - for example, of 104 water samples submitted to the court by Chevron, 102 (or 98%) violate Ecuadorian legal standards.
The class-action lawsuit, which was filed in Ecuador in 2003 after a decade of legal jousting in the United States, alleges that Texaco dumped 30 times more crude into Ecuador than was spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster. An estimated 30,000 people are affected, and several health studies published in peer-reviewed journals have demonstrated skyrocketing cancer rates and other health problems in the area. The only comprehensive damage assessment, completed in 2003 by the American firm Global Environmental Operations, said it would take at least $6 billion to clean up most, but not all, of the damage.
The results are all the more significant because legal standards in Ecuador are far more permissible than those in the United States. For example, Ecuador´s standard for dumping Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons (TPH) - considered the best indicator of petroleum contamination - is between 10 and 40 times more lax than most U.S. states.
Even with these more lax standards, Chevron submitted a total of 312 water and soil samples that violated Ecuador norms. One Chevron soil sample came in at an alarming 265,338 parts per million of TPH - 250 times over the maximum allowable level in most U.S. states and 25 times higher than the Ecuadorian norm.
An analysis of the scientific results of the 18 sites reveals the following:
- Of the 152 water samples submitted to the court by both sides, 150 (99%) contain high levels of toxics and poisons that violate Ecuadorian law. These include TPHs and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, which contain elements that cause cancer and other illnesses.
- Of the 470 soil samples submitted to the court by Chevron, 210 (45%) contain levels of TPHs that violate national law. These levels, although a lower percentage compared to the water samples, are significant because Chevron takes samples in areas (such as on top of hills) where there is a lower probability of finding toxins.
- Of the soil samples taken by the plaintiffs, 119 out of 146 (81%) violate Ecuador law.
Texaco's "Sham" Remediation
Chevron's main defense in the case - that Texaco remediated a few of its former sites in the mid 1990s - is looking more and more like it might collapse. In every one of the 14 sites supposedly "remediated" by Texaco from which samples were given to the court, Chevron itself produced soil and water samples that show extensive contamination that violates Ecuadorian law. Separately, the plaintiffs produced similar results.
For example, at a Texaco well site called Sacha 6 -- supposedly "remediated" by Texaco in 1996 -- every one of the 14 water samples violated Ecuador law. In the well site Sacha 21, also "remediated" in 1996, every one of six Chevron water samples violated the law.
Eight more inspections are planned before the end of 2005. The inspections must finish in June of 2006, according to Pablo Fajardo, the lawyer for the plaintiffs. A decision in the trial, which will be made by a judge and is enforceable in federal court in the United States, is expected sometime later that year or in early 2007.
The results did not surprise individuals in the region.
"This only confirms through science what we have suspected for years: that the remediation of Texaco is a fraud," said Luis Yanza, a spokesperson for the affected people suing Texaco.