Chevron in Ecuador

The archive of the Clean Up Ecuador campaign website

Miami Herald Catches Chevron in Lie about Ecuador Well Site

Reporter finds oil sludge in "remediated" pit that's part of Chevron's fraud, plaintiffs say

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Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109

Washington, DC – The Miami Herald has caught Chevron in a blatant lie about its sham "remediation" in Ecuador that the company uses to defend against an $18 billion judgment in a case brought by indigenous groups.

In a story published in today's newspaper, journalist Jim Wyss said he witnessed "thick oil slicks" only a few feet into the ground of a dirt-covered storage pit at well site Sacha 53 that Chevron told him the day before had been remediated.

Company lawyers have used the well site, as well as others, as examples of Chevron's "remediation" that supposedly absolves the company of further liability.

After watching a man dig into the ground at the well site, Wyss wrote, "Within a few inches the dirt gives off the pungent odor of petroleum. Within a few feet the dirt glistens with oil residue. When a few handfuls of the soil are dropped into a bucket of water, a thick oil-slick coats the surface."

The Herald article is significant because Chevron has claimed to U.S. Judge Lewis Kaplan of the Southern District Court of New York that the site is proof that Chevron is the victim of a racketeering scheme cooked up by the plaintiffs and their American and Ecuadorian lawyers.

The plaintiffs claim it is Chevron who is trying to cover up unlawful conduct in Ecuador, which led to the deliberate discharge of billions of gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon, killing off indigenous groups and causing an epidemic of cancer. The so-called Chevron clean-up, which took place between 1995 and 1998, has been found to be fraudulent by an Ecuadorian trial judge who ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.

The judge's ruling, which came in a 188-page decision issued Feb. 14, was a massive blow to Chevron. The company could be liable for more than $18 billion in damages, with a final determination to be made by an Ecuador appellate court.

In a series of rulings over the last several months, Judge Kaplan – without having visited Ecuador and without even conducting an evidentiary hearing – has found that Chevron's purported "remediation" might allow him to conclude the judgment from Ecuador is unenforceable in the United States. The plaintiffs in Ecuador have asserted they are free to enforce the judgment in any of dozens of countries around the world where Chevron has assets, regardless of what Kaplan decides.

They also argue that Judge Kaplan has no jurisdiction over the Ecuadorian plaintiffs.

In any event, the report in the Miami Herald is exactly the kind of firsthand evidence that Judge Kaplan is refusing to consider in his proceeding, said Karen Hinton, the spokesperson for the plaintiffs.

"The eyewitness account from the Miami Herald, along with massive evidence in the trial, puts the lie to Chevron's claims to the U.S. court that it remediated the pits," said Hinton.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs have long asserted Chevron's remediation, which covered only 16% of the 916 waste pits left by the company, was a fraud used by the company to try to avoid liability for creating what experts believe is the world's worst oil-related disaster. Two Chevron employees and several Ecuadorian government officials are under criminal indictment in Ecuador for lying about the clean-up results.

In 2002, Chevron had the case moved to Ecuador from U.S. federal court after submitting 14 separate affidavits claiming the court system in the South American nation was fair and transparent. The case was originally filed in New York in 1993.

After the trial in Ecuador began in 2003, testing at dozens of the oil pits left by Chevron in Ecuador began to show extensive levels of cancer-causing toxins. By 2007, when overwhelming evidence began to pour onto the court docket, Chevron changed its tune about Ecuador's courts and began buying advertising in Ecuadorian newspapers saying it was the victim of a conspiracy.

Meanwhile, Judge Kaplan appears to have adopted Chevron's view on the remediation agreement, writing in one opinion: "The release by Ecuador seems to have been intended to put an end to any claims or litigation concerning Texaco's alleged pollution."

The Miami Herald's Wyss has a different account. He begins his story this way:

"Donald Moncayo (a plaintiffs' representative) walks to the edge of a flat grassy field that once held two large pits that brimmed with a stew of water and crude from an oil-drilling operation. He lifts a heavy auger above his head and prepares to plunge it into the ground. "They (Chevron) always show you the shirt the coat and the tie," he said of the area, called Sacha 53, which is now pastureland and spindly trees. "They never show you the tumor underneath the shirt."

After describing the oil he saw and smelled only a few feet into the soil, he quotes Moncayo again:

"This is their remediation effort," Moncayo says. "They're no better than animals."

Chevron's PR representative in Ecuador, James Craig, attempted to explain the oil by asserting it may have "occurred naturally" or the Ecuadorians may have "spiked" the ground. He even claimed that if it Chevron didn't completely clean the pit, the oil wouldn't hurt anyone anyway.

In reality, thousands of Ecuadorians have suffered from cancer as a result of the exposure to Chevron's pollution, according to several independent studies.