Amazon Defense Coalition
8 November 2010 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
Lago Agrio, Ecuador – A former Chevron oilfield worker has described in graphic detail how the company ordered its employees to systematically dump toxic waste into the waterways of the Amazon rainforest, according to representatives of the communities suing the oil giant.
In a video posted here, a former Chevron oilfield worker Jhinsop Martinez Erraez offers an eyewitness account of his employer's criminal conduct. Erraez said the company conducted wholesale dumping of toxic waste products and industrial chemicals directly into the Ecuadorian rainforest from 1964 to 1990.
The revelations came in the second video posted by Amazon Watch that confirms Chevron's oilfield misconduct in Ecuador, where the company faces a multi-billion dollar liability in a case brought by dozens of indigenous and farmer communities. The first video, available here, documented how the company abandoned hundreds of waste pits that piped toxic waste into rivers and streams relied on by the local inhabitants for their drinking water.
Martinez had been an assistant for oil production operations at Dureno 1, one of the 378 well sites and oil production facilities built and operated by Texaco throughout an area of rainforest roughly the size of Rhode Island.
"The water was released contaminated with chemicals … the water dumped was yellow, totally contaminated because it was injected with two classes of chemicals, one to separate the water and another to separate the sediment" said Martinez. "The [oil] well was on a hill and drained down the mountainside and into a river."
"And that was the routine we had twenty-four hours a day, taking care of that well," Martinez said.
According to its own environmental audits, Chevron discharged at least 18 billion gallons of the "produced water" that Martinez describes in his interview. Produced water contains cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene, toluene, xylene and Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs).
Martinez worked for Chevron in the late 1980s, shortly before its contract with Ecuador's government expired in 1992 and the company left the country. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. federal court in 1993 and moved to Ecuador in 2002 after Chevron agreed to accept jurisdiction there and abide by any judgment.
The top end of Chevron's damages is estimated to be as high as $113 billion, according to a report submitted by six prominent American technical experts.
While Chevron does not dispute that it dumped the "produced water" as Martinez said, the company has said on multiple occasions that the toxic waste was treated before discharge. This claim is sharply contradicted by Martinez.
"[Texaco] gave the orders for us to drain the water out into nature – the contaminated waters. It didn't go anywhere to be treated or anything like that," Martinez told Amazon Watch. "It went directly through a pipe and drained down the mountainside, nowhere else. And, well, there was nothing you could do."
Martinez's statements are significant because as early as the 1930s it was standard oil industry practice in the United States to re-inject "produced water" deep underground rather than discharge it directly into the environment, where it could contaminate fresh water sources. Some "produced water" is discharged in the U.S. today, but only under a strict permitting process to guarantee that it does not contaminate water sources.
According to Martinez, neither of these approaches were utilized at Dureno 1 even though Chevron owned the patent on the technology used for underground reinjection.
Evidence before the Ecuador court demonstrates that Chevron's dumping at Dureno 1 was replicated at all of the company's production sites in Ecuador, said Pablo Fajardo, the attorney for the plaintiffs.
"It is clear that Chevron is responsible for the destruction of an entire region's environment on which thousands of people depend for their sustenance," said Fajardo.
Several peer-reviewed health evaluations have found elevated rates of cancer in the area where Chevron operated. One American expert, formerly associated with the RAND Corporation, authored a report report, concluding that up to 10,000 people faced a significant risk of contracting cancer in the coming decades because of the pollution.
"An entire generation has been forced to live with the reality of elevated risks of cancer, childhood leukemia, spontaneous abortions, and birth defects simply because Chevron didn't want to spend the money to operate the way it would have in the United States," said Fajardo.
Several experts believe the damage caused by Chevron in Ecuador dwarfs the harm generated by the BP Gulf spill, and is probably the world's largest oil-related disaster. The contamination will take at least a decade to remediate once funds are in place, according to experts.
A complete video of the Martinez interview, and associated transcripts is available here.