The legal fight against Chevron dates back to the 1970s and 80s, when Texaco, now classified as a part of Chevron, discharged billions of gallons of toxic waste into Ecuador, affecting over 1,500 square miles. The company is now being taken to court for $18 billion because of Environmental Racism accusations during its operation in Ecuador from 1964 to 1992 (The Guardian, 2012).
The Ecuadorian government invited Texaco in 1964 to explore and produce oil within the region. The country had no experience in the oil industry and thus decided to give Texaco the role of designing the wells, and building the pipelines that would transport oil across the Andes Mountains to the Pacific Coast. The government trusted Texaco, and believed that they would use the same technological standards policies that they use elsewhere. Texaco’s common policy was to dispose of wastewater by replacing it into the ground, where it cannot affect the environment. Unfortunately Texaco did the opposite, and disposed of the production water, by dumping it in unmarked pits adjacent to water wells (Jacques, 2012). The wastewater produced was highly toxic, and oil workers would drain the pits into nearby streams and rivers, enforcing the spread of dangerous chemicals such as Benzene, Toluene, Xylems and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, chemicals of which are associated with possible causes of cancer. Reports claim that Texaco managed to save $5 billion through carrying out this procedure in Ecuador.
Texaco’s involvement within Ecuador enforced the extinction of three indigenous tribes. The Cofan tribe in particular, had an estimated population of 15,000 people before the oil wells were built on their land in 1971. More recently their population has been reduced to a few hundred. The tribe depends on the rivers for their food, hygiene and transportation yet due to the dumping of toxic waste the rivers have become useless, and they have been forced to migrate.
A study performed in 1993 by The Centre for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), noted that the exposure to levels of oil-related contaminants on the residents of the Ecuadorian Amazon substantially exceeded international safety limits. This could thus enhance the diagnosis of skin problems such as dermatomes (Jacques, 2012).
Texaco on the other hand state that they saved a lot less than the claimed $5 billion, and that they followed the Ecuadorian environmental laws and international petroleum industry standards. The corporation believes that facts have been twisted and scientific data has been ignored within the lawsuit (Texaco 2012). They claim that Texaco spent $40 million cleaning up everything that it was responsible for in the 1990s before handing over the site back to the state-owned company Petroecuador, yet residents claim that the pollution continues to be widespread.
A recent article in the Guardian (2012) states that the lawyers representing Ecuadorian plaintiffs have accused Chevron of racism, due to the different planning policies they uphold outside of Ecuador. They pay particular attention to indigenous people, claiming that Chevron does not want to recognise the indigenous or poor people’s right to justice in the same respect they would of those in First World countries. Martinez-Aller (2001) states that Environmental racism can be deemed a useful language for conflicts to assert indigenous territorial rights. Chevron may not have intentionally tried to affect the lives of the Ecuadorians, yet to state the obvious would be to deem them racist.
Jacques, K. (2012). Environmental Justice Case Study: Texaco’s oil production in the Ecuadorian Rainforest. Available: http://www.umich.edu/~snre492/Jones/texaco.htm . Last accessed 18.02.12.
Martinez-Aller, J. (2001). Mining conflicts, environmental justice and valuation. Journal of Hazardous Materials. 86 (1-3), 153-170
Rushe, D. (2012). Chevron accuse of racism as it fights Ecuador pollution ruling. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/jan/04/chevron-accused-racism-ecuador-pollution. Last accessed 20.02.12
Texaco. (2012). Plaintiffs, Myths, Distortions and Fabrications.Available: http://www.texaco.com/sitelets/ecuador/en/PlaintiffsMyths.aspx. Last accessed 23.02.12.
Picture 1: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-16404268
Picture 2: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-16404268
Picture 3: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/jan/04/ecuador-upholds-chevron-fine
Picture 4: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/jan/04/chevron-accused-racism-ecuador-pollution