25 April 2006
HOUSTON - Two Ecuadoreans said Tuesday they plan to confront Chevron Corp.'s CEO during its shareholders meeting this week over allegations that an Amazon rain forest has been contaminated by waste disposal from oil drilling operations.
The pair are part of a class-action lawsuit against Chevron in an attempt to force a cleanup of toxic dumping that plaintiffs' attorneys say is significantly worse than the Exxon Valdez oil spill. They said drinking contaminated water has caused cancer and other health problems in the jungle the size of Rhode Island.
"I came to give a report that Mother Earth is sick from this contamination, and I'm personally affected," Rita Maldonado, 40, who has leukemia, said in Spanish through an interpreter. "We've started to boil the water, but we have to keep drinking it and we keep getting sick."
Chevron has said the plaintiffs' attorneys have not presented any credible, substantiated scientific evidence to support their allegations.
Maldonado and Emergildo Criollo Quenema, a Cofan tribe leader, plan to voice their concerns to Chevron's chairman and CEO David O'Reilly at the shareholders meeting Wednesday.
Amnesty International and a few other groups have proposed a shareholders resolution calling on Chevron's board to report how much the company has spent in defending the suit and remediation. They claim Chevron is "addressing these issues as a public relations problem rather than a serious health and environmental problem," according to the resolution.
San Ramon, Calif.-based Chevron, which has significant operations in Houston, posted a record profit of $14.1 billion in 2005, benefiting from high crude oil and natural gas prices. The company is to report its first-quarter earnings on Friday.
The lawsuit, brought by 88 people representing 30,000 poor jungle settlers and Amazon Indians, has been in trial in Ecuador since late 2003 after a decade of winding through U.S. courts. It alleges that one of Chevron's predecessor companies, Texaco Petroleum Co., dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic water into a rain forest over three decades.
From 1964-92, Texaco Petroleum Co., a subsidiary of Texaco, was a partner in a government-owned oil consortium. Texaco merged with Chevron in 2001.
Texaco completed a $40 million remediation program in 1998, and Ecuador released the company from any further claims.
The plaintiffs say Texaco chose to cut costs by dumping oily wastewater brought up by drilling into more than 600 open pits and streams in the Amazon jungle. They also say the remediation did not address groundwater contamination and that the necessary cleanup
would cost more than $6 billion.
"Before the company came, as indigenous people of the Amazon, we lived without contamination, without disease," Quenema, 46, said Tuesday in Spanish through an interpreter.
Shares of Chevron fell 58 cents to $60.41 in Tuesday's trading on the New York Stock Exchange.