Chevron Faces $27 Billion Liability for Toxic Catastrophe in Ecuador's Amazon Rainforest
Amazon Defense Coalition
4 February 2009 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
Quito, Ecuador (Feb 04, 2009) - Scientists in the $27 billion class action lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador's Amazon have discovered that the company manipulated laboratory results to evade a judgment at trial, lawyers for indigenous tribes announced today.
Chevron's misleading lab results have been presented by the company as a defense to the environmental lawsuit, brought by 30,000 rainforest residents in Ecuador over the dumping of 18 billion gallons of toxic waste in the rainforest from 1964 to 1990. An independent court expert recently estimated damages at $27 billion with a final judgment expected later this year.
Chevron, which bought Texaco in 2001, used the test results to obtain a limited legal release from Ecuador's government that should absolve it of liability. Texaco was the sole operator of a large concession in Ecuador's rainforest from 1964 to 1990.
"The new evidence definitively proves that Chevron has lied to the courts and the Ecuadorian people about an environmental remediation that failed miserably to deliver the results promised," said Pablo Fajardo, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs.
Douglas Beltman, an executive vice-president at Stratus Consulting in Boulder, said that Texaco used a laboratory test called the Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) to measure soil contamination remaining after its purported clean-up of dozens of waste pits in Ecuador between 1995 and 1998. The TCLP test is designed to evaluate the amount of soil contamination that leaches into surrounding water, rather than the amount of contamination in the soil itself. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that the TCLP test not be used for oil-contaminated soils because of unreliability.
In a remarkable finding, Beltman discovered that in Ecuador Texaco used a clean-up standard of 1,000 mg/L of oil that leaches into water from soil in the TCLP test to determine whether it had properly remediated the soil -- a threshold level physically impossible to reach because the water solubility of crude oil is typically 10 mg/L or less.
"If nothing were done at a site contaminated with pure crude oil, a sample measured using the TCLP test would still easily pass Texaco's clean-up standard," said Beltman, a former EPA scientist who made the discovery when analyzing reams of data submitted by Chevron as evidence in the trial.
"The entire Texaco clean-up was guaranteed to pass muster because of the improper use of the test, regardless of the amount of contamination," he added.
Fajardo, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, added: "This again proves that Chevron is engaged in classic junk science. Chevron is simply attempting to cover-up Texaco's fraud so it can evade its liability."
The discovery helps solve one of the enduring mysteries of the trial. To secure its release, Texaco reported to Ecuador's government that levels of contamination were so low at its "remediated" sites that its laboratory equipment couldn't detect the presence of toxins. Yet at the time, local residents complained that crude oil was visible on the ground at those very sites.
Years later, at the civil trial against Chevron, sample results from those same sites found levels of hydrocarbons in the soils thousands of times higher than permissible norms even though Chevron had reported them at "non-detectable" levels to secure its release.
Beltman's analysis was confirmed by other scientists at Status Consulting, including Dr. Ann Maest, considered a national authority on environmental chemistry. A report on the findings, called Texaco's Misuse of the TCLP Test In Ecuador, is available in PDF format above.
The discovery of the faked results is further evidence of Chevron's deepening crisis in Ecuador, said Fajardo, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs. Besides the potential $27 billion liability, Fajardo said the new evidence can be used in a criminal case against two Chevron lawyers and seven government officials indicted for lying about the clean-up.
Evidence in the civil trial demonstrates the soil and groundwater in Texaco's former concession is so poisoned with hydrocarbons that an area of rainforest roughly the size of Rhode Island is virtually uninhabitable, according to the court-appointed expert. The $27 billon in damages is primarily to cover the clean-up of soils and groundwater, install a water system, provide health care, and to compensate the region for cancer deaths.
Fajardo pinned primary blame for the fraud on Ricardo Reis Veiga, one of the Chevron lawyers under indictment. Reis Veiga supervised the so-called clean-up in the mid-1990s when working for Texaco.
He also cited the role of Charles James, Chevron's General Counsel and a former Assistant Attorney General in the Bush Administration. James has continued to defend Reis Veiga's role and has permitted him to supervise the Chevron team in the civil trial, which critics call a conflict of interest.
A final judgment in the case, which is being heard in Ecuador at Chevron's request, is expected later this year.
Texaco has admitted it dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste water into Ecuador's Amazon waterways. The waste included cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene, and five indigenous groups assert their traditional lifestyles have been decimated by the contamination.