Chevron in Ecuador

The archive of the Clean Up Ecuador campaign website

Chevron Has Only Itself to Blame for Historic $16 Billion Claim in Ecuador Case, Lawyers Say

Company's Bungled Legal Strategy Created Much of Scientific Proof Used Against It by Independent Court Expert

Amazon Defense Coalition

Amazon Defense Coalition
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109

San Francisco - Chevron has only itself to blame for facing a judgment of up to $16 billion in a historic environmental case in Ecuador because it produced most of the evidence that is now being used against it, say representatives of the rainforest groups that brought the case.

"It has become clear that the court appointed expert who came up with the $16 billion damages claim against Chevron relied largely on Chevron's own evidence," said Pablo Fajardo, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs who is in San Francisco to receive the Goldman environmental prize, long considered the "Oscars" for the environmental movement.

"Chevron must now face the cold reality that its own science will likely convict it of all the charges in the lawsuit," Fajardo, who represents the Amazon Defense Coalition, added. "This is most unusual in civil litigation, and represents a bungled legal strategy by Chevron."

Fajardo, who recently received a "Hero" award from CNN in a global broadcast after surviving death threats for his work on behalf of the environment in Ecuador's Amazon, said a deeper analysis of the 5,000 page independent report turned over to the Ecuador court on April 1 showed that Chevron continues to try to mislead its shareholders over the proof in the case.

The lawsuit charges Chevron with dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste water into Amazon waterways and leaving roughly 900 open-air toxic waste pits in the jungle from the 26-year period (1964 to 1990) when it was the exclusive operator of an oil concession in Ecuador. Indigenous groups claim they are on the verge of extinction because of the contamination, which has produced a spike in cancer rates and spontaneous miscarriages in the region.

The expert report, which was prepared with the help of 15 scientists under the supervision of Ecuadorian environmental consultant, found that Chevron was "principally responsible" for the contamination in the concession area, which is roughly the size of Rhode Island. Using evidence from Chevron, the plaintiffs, and his own soil and water sampling, the lead expert concluded that most of the waste pits left by the company still contain illegal levels of toxins in the soil - some hundreds of times higher than levels permitted by norms in Ecuador and the U.S.

He also concluded groundwater was contaminated with heavy metals, and that approximately 428 excess deaths from cancer could be attributed to the contamination left by oil field operations.

Most surprising, though, is how the expert cited Chevron's own evidence to reach his conclusions against the company. Even though Chevron's technical experts often lifted soil samples from areas where it thought there was no contamination, the lab results from Chevron's samples produced devastating numbers:

  • At a Chevron pit at well site Sacha 51 (Sacha is the name of an oil field in the Chevron concession), Chevron reported Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons at 63,000 parts per million (ppm) - or about 630 times higher than the typical norm in the U.S. of 100 ppm. TPHs contain a family of dangerous toxins, including the carcinogen benzene.
  • At another Chevron well site, Sacha 21, Chevron produced a soil sample that contained TPHs at 39,000 ppm, or 390 times higher than typical U.S. norms.
  • At yet another Chevron well site, Sacha 53, Chevron produced a soil sample for the court that contained TPHs at 20,000 ppm, or 200 times higher than typical U.S. norms.

These results were typical of the findings at all of Chevron's former well sites inspected during the trial - even those sites where Chevron claimed it had conducted a remediation in the mid 1990s.

The lead expert, Richard Cabrera, concluded in his summary report that the evidence demonstrating contamination in Chevron's Ecuador concession came from both parties as well as his own sampling - and the results from each of the three entities generally corroborated the results of the other two.

In light of the evidence, Amazon community leader Luis Yanza - who is sharing the Goldman Prize honor with Fajardo -- called on Chevron CEO David O'Reilly to stop the company's misleading public relations campaign, which claims the evidence favors Chevron. Chevron currently faces a complaint before the Securities and Exchange Commission over its alleged failure to comply with disclosure obligations mandated by law relating to its potential Ecuador liability.

"Mr. O'Reilly is trying to hide Chevron's enormous liability from shareholders through a misinformation campaign," said Fajardo.