Chevron in Ecuador

The archive of the Clean Up Ecuador campaign website

Chevron Lawyer Stumbles in 60 Minutes Interview over Ecuador Oil Contamination

Sylvia Garrigo Compares Makeup on Her Face to Heavily Contaminated Toxic Waste Pits; "Public Relations Disaster " for Chevron

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Amazon Defense Coalition
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New York, NY – Chevron shocked the public relations and legal worlds Sunday by allowing a relatively unknown in-house lawyer to stumble through an interview trying to defend the company on 60 Minutes against charges that it is responsible for the world's largest oil contamination in Ecuador, where it faces a $27 billion liability.

The spokesperson, Sylvia Garrigo, did not disappoint the company's detractors – she quickly made the bizarre claim that trace amounts of oil in the makeup on her face was no more harmful that the toxic sludge filmed by 60 Minutes in hundreds of unlined waste pits Texaco built in Ecuador's rainforest that are still polluting soils and groundwater, according to an independent court expert.

One viewer who posted comments on the internet compared Garrigo's performance to satirical appearances by Dan Akroyd on Saturday Night Live. Another found it shocking that Chevron did not put forth David O'Reilly, the company's CEO, to defend the company in what 60 Minutes called the largest environmental legal case ever.

Sadly for Chevron, Garrigo's performance had nothing to do with satire.

"Chevron's effort to duck, dodge, bob and weave by not making available a senior level executive such as the CEO, Board Member or officer is the public relations equivalent of a criminal defendant on trial for a heinous crime not taking the witness stand in their own defense - it communicates to everyone that you must be guilty," said Chris Lehane, a political and media consultant and former White House lawyer under the Clinton Administration. "This has to be one of the more shocking and sickening performances by a corporate spokesperson in the history of journalism," said Drew_6583, in a typical online posting on the 60 Minutes website. "The moment could not have been more important for the company and they blew it by not putting forth their CEO."

Garrigo, who spoke to CBS correspondent Scott Pelley from a corporate office in the U.S., denied that Chevron had found toxins in the environment despite visual images of oil in streams next to abandoned company well sites. Her claim directly contradicts laboratory reports Chevron has submitted as evidence in the trial, which are available as public records.

The highlight of the Garrigo interview - or lowlight, depending on one's perspective - was when CBS asked her about the 916 toxic waste pits that Texaco abandoned in the jungle over an area roughly the size of the state of Rhode Island. Garrigo apparently was trying to downplay the danger of the oil in the pits by comparing them to oil in her own makeup.

The only problem is that the trial evidence shows the pits contain contaminants and carcinogens up to thousands of times higher than norms allow. Many of the pits are the size of Olympic-sized swimming pools and are filled with toxic sludge, as shocking visuals in the 60 Minutes broadcast made evident.

"I have make-up on, and that's naturally occurring oil on my face," Garrigo told Pelley. "Doesn't mean that I'm going to get sick from it."

Julio Prieto, a lawyer for the Amazonian communities, said Garrigo "would not be able to survive one hour if she plastered benzene and TPHs on her face at levels being found in Texaco's waste pits in Ecuador."

Garrigo's title at Chevron is manager of global issues and policy, but there is no evidence she has meaningful litigation or public relations experience. Her biography is not listed on the company's website and no press release was issued when she was hired for her current job.

The trial is currently taken place in Ecuador at Chevron's request after the company asked that it be transferred out of U.S. federal court, where it was filed in 1993. The lawsuit alleges that Texaco dumped billions of gallons of waste into the rainforest from 1964 to 1990, decimating indigenous groups and causing dramatic increases in cancer rates.

Prieto, who has worked on the case for three years, said Garrigo "lied to millions of people on 60 Minutes by denying the scientific evidence in the case as proven by Chevron's own lab reports, which are easily available as public records."

As examples, Prieto pointed out that Chevron itself submitted several soil samples to the court that show high levels of public health risk above legal norms. While the typical norm is Ecuador is 1,000 parts per million in the soil for Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons (norms mark the point past which public health is threatened), Chevron found samples at 63,140 ppm (63 times higher than the Ecuadorian norm) at Texaco's former Sacha 51 well site, 39,180 ppm (39 times higher) at Texaco's Sacha 21 well site, and 20,180 ppm at Texaco's Sacha 53 well site (20 times higher).

Garrigo's claim that these soil samples pose no risk to human health is demonstrably false, said Prieto. The official U.S. government website that tracks toxicity asserts that substances in TPH - which include the carcinogen benzene - can cause leukemia, damage the central nervous system, and create fatigue, headache, nausea, and drowsiness.

Despite the science, Garrigo insisted to 60 Minutes that in "thousands" of soil and water samples taken in the Amazon by Chevron "there has been no detection of any type of toxin... that is dangerous to human health or the environment."

Numerous comments posted on the website for 60 Minutes also focused on Garrigo's bizarre performance. "I have rarely seen a corporate spokesperson LESS effective than the Chevron lawyer. She looked like Dan Akroyd in the old SNL spoofs on the show. How she could, with a straight face, argue that they couldn't be sued in Ecuador after getting the venue changed TO Ecuador, or that oil doesn't cause environmental damage in the Amazon is bewildering," said a posting by MBarlingon.

Chevron could have used any of a number of experienced executives or lawyers for the interview, including General Counsel Charles James, who served at Assistant Attorney General under President George H.W. Bush, and Tim Cullen, the company's lead outside counsel and a respected litigator at the Jones Day law firm.

"Let's just say Chevron brought the wrong person out of the bullpen," said a public relations executive in New York. "The entire interview backfired and undermined Chevron's credibility."