Chevron in Ecuador

The archive of the Clean Up Ecuador campaign website

Chevron Lawyers Commit Fraud to Undercount Oil Contamination in Ecuador

Amazon Defense Coalition

Amazon Defense Coalition
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109

Washington, DC – Chevron's lawyers are trying to defraud an Ecuadorian Court by reporting contamination results in an environmental trial using laboratory tests that intentionally exclude the detection of harmful hydrocarbons, representatives of the indigenous and farmer communities suing Chevron said today.

By failing to report the full range of hydrocarbon pollution, Chevron's legal team has been reporting artificially low contamination levels in thousands of sampling results from open-air waste pits, said Karen Hinton, a spokesperson for the Amazon Defense Coalition. The goal appears to be to minimize the company's liability, which has been estimated to be as high as $27.3 billion, said Hinton.

"Chevron lawyers are using fraudulent testing methods to create ‘proof' that the contamination in Ecuador is less extensive than it is," said Pablo Fajardo, the Ecuadorian lawyer for the 30,000 plaintiffs who allege the company polluted a large swath of rainforest by dumping toxic waste and using sub-standard operational practices.

"This is the latest example of Chevron lawyers trying to hide a major chemical hazard from the court and the local population," he added.

The lawsuit accuses the oil giant of deliberately dumping 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest from 1964 to 1990, when Texaco (bought by Chevron in 2001) was the exclusive operator of large oil concession. The resulting contamination is considered one of the most extensive in history and has decimated indigenous groups and caused an outbreak of cancer and other health problems, according to the plaintiffs.

Fajardo said the fraudulent testing practices employed by Chevron include the following:

Use of faulty test method: Chevron defends the use of an inappropriate test to measure the contamination at the large unlined waste pits Texaco claims to have cleaned in the 1990s. Called the TCLP (Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure), the test runs water over soils contaminated with hydrocarbons, and measures hydrocarbons in the runoff. Because water and oil don't mix, the liquid runoff contains almost none of the oil in the soil – thereby guaranteeing Chevron's desired finding of minimal contamination.

Experts believe the TCLP test captures only about 1% of the hydrocarbon contamination in soil. Chevron used the TCLP test results to dupe Ecuador's government into giving it a legal release after its sham clean-up of a small portion of the waste pits, said Fajardo.

Use of the TCLP test made it physically impossible for Chevron to be considered in violation of the law in Ecuador during its so-called remediation even if the site was completely filled with oil, said Fajardo. "The Chevron test was so flawed even a glass full of pure oil would pass with flying colors," he added.

The plaintiffs discovered Texaco's use of the TCLP test after the normal TPH tests used in the trial showed illegal levels of contamination at the so-called "remediated" sites. The difference in results between the two tests is startling: at one of Texaco's "remediated" well sites (Sacha 18), Chevron reported less than 1,000 ppm of TPH using the TCLP test while the site actually had more than 35,000 ppm of TPH using the normal test.

Fajardo said the legal release derived from the fraudulent TCLP testing – a problem for Chevron, since the release is the linchpin of the company's defense at trial.

Failure to test for complete spectrum of hydrocarbons: During the environmental trial in Ecuador, Chevron only tested for gasoline and diesel ranges of Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons and deliberately excluded hydrocarbon compounds in crude oil that boil at temperatures above the diesel range. This lowered the amount of contamination reported to the court; the testing method violates standard practice in the U.S. and in the industry.

Soil sampling locations minimize contamination: Chevron also tried to lower contamination reported to the court by selecting locations uphill or far away from the source of the contamination. Chevron has consistently refused to take samples from areas where oil contamination is visibly present, including open oil pits built and abandoned by Texaco.

Using inappropriate clean-up standards: Chevron has proposed that the Ecuador court adopt a clean-up standard of 10,000 ppm for TPH – roughly 100 times higher than the mean U.S. standard, and ten times higher than Ecuador's standard of 1000 ppm. In other words, Chevron in effect is saying the Ecuadorian people should live in contamination 100 times higher than the levels allowed in the U.S., said Fajardo.

Lying about independent laboratory: New evidence also indicates that Chevron set up a laboratory in Ecuador to process soil and water samples from the trial that was under its control, even though it reported the results to the court as being processed independently, said Fajardo. This was revealed by Chevron whistleblower Diego Borja in audio recordings released by the plaintiffs.