10,000 May Die in Ecuador Due to Chevron's Pollution

Shockwaves rippled through the world's largest environmental lawsuit on Friday, as a new damages assessment was submitted in the lawsuit between 30,000 Indigenous peoples and local farmers against the global oil giant Chevron. The damages assessment finds that because of factors still persisting in the Ecuadorean rainforest from Chevron's pollution, nearly 10,000 Ecuadoreans are at significant risk of dying from cancer by the year 2080. The technical and medical experts who authored the assessment claim that the conditions that remain from Chevron's systemic pollution in the Amazon will continue to cause cancer, birth defects, and other ailments for decades.

"The information in this submission is highly significant because it reflects clearly that there is a terrible oil-related disaster in Ecuador in the area where Chevron operated," said Pablo Fajardo, lead lawyer for the Ecuadorian communities suing Chevron.

The new assessment also placed damages to Ecuadorian communities at $40-90 billion rather than the court's original $27.3 billion. The increase in damages is due to Chevron's "unjust enrichment." Unjust enrichment is essentially money saved by using sub-standard drilling practices. Simply, Chevron cut corners and communities paid the price, a very high price.

Fajardo was clear about Chevron's human impact in the region. "What these analyses make chillingly clear is that thousands of Ecuadorian citizens may well contract and die of cancer in the coming decades because of Chevron's contamination."

Marta Isabel Arrobo, 49, recalls numerous health problems she and her family have suffered living in close proximity to several toxic oil pits abandoned by Texaco (now Chevron) in the Ecuadorean Amazon rainforest. Photo by Caroline Bennett / Rainforest Action Network

This new damages assessment submitted by the plaintiffs comes after the presiding judge opened a 45-day window for both parties to submit their own damage assessments to the court. The plantiffs accepted the offer while Chevron rejected the opportunity. A peculiar move considering Chevron has spent the last two years attacking original independent damages assessment that contained over 105 expert reports and more than 64,000 samples. Fajardo points that many of the reports and samples Chevron argues are in fact Chevron's own filings.

"The Ecuador court has more than enough evidence and expert analyses to determine the cost of remediating the extensive oil pollution that has devastated thousands in the region for decades," Fajardo added. "There are more than 100 different expert reports in evidence, dozens of them produced by Chevron, which overwhelmingly demonstrate extensive contamination at all of Chevron's former oil production facilities."

Furthermore, court documents filed in US federal court two weeks ago detailed environmental audits commissioned by Texaco in 1993 (Chevron bought Texaco in 2001) before they pulled out of Ecuador showed that:

* "Hydrocarbon contamination requiring remediation at all production facilities and a majority of the drill sites."* "Produced water (which contains carcinogens and toxic heavy metals) is being discharged to the environment in all cases."* "Contamination of soil and water was observed at well sites, production stations and along roadways, flowlines and secondary pipelines.

Rainforest Action Network Executive Director Rebecca Tarbotton follows up, "These documents say two things. One, if Chevron is genuinely digging for truth, they are only going to find more evidence that shows one thing: they are guilty. Two, these documents not only illustrate Chevron's liability; they demonstrate the company's knowledge of this liability when they acquired Texaco." Although somewhat technical, you can read the audits here and here.

These audits and the new damages assessment were completed decades apart, but both illustrate the insurmountable evidence against Chevron. Perhaps it is that reality that has left Chevron refusing to complete its own assessment. The breadth of Chevron's pollution and the toxic conditions that still exist in the Amazon are clear not matter whose assessment it is.

The official court assessment placed the human cost and ecological damages at $27.3 billion in 2008. Since that amount was established Chevron divested energy from arguing the case and relied on a delay and deflect strategy. Having already conceded that it expects to be found liable for the pollution, Chevron has turned its efforts towards spy tapes, manufactured media, and a PR blitz even BP is envious of.

One of Chevron's most infamous ploys is that of a spy videotape scandal (not to be confused with Chevron's attempts to turn journalists into spies). Chevron associates, one a former drug runner and the other a former employee, secretly videotaped conversations in which they actively attempted to entrap the judge presiding over the court case, the case as come to emblemize Chevron's "dirty tricks". Coincidently this "dirty trick" and its legality being called into question the same week as the new damage assessments announcement.

Diego Borja, a former Chevron employee, has been ordered by a US federal judge to appear for a deposition to explain his relationship with Chevron and his motive for the potentially illegal video sting operation.

The US federal judge who ordered the subpoena said: "There is evidence ... suggesting that Mr. Borja was not an innocent third party who just happened to learn of the alleged bribery scheme but rather was a long-time associate of Chevron whom Chevron would pay for any favorable testimony."

It's easy to understand why the judge would draw such conclusions. Soon after Borja recorded himself in conversations Chevron uprooted him from Ecuador gave him a $10,000 monthly stipend and placed him in a secluded townhouse on the outskirts of San Ramon CA, where Chevron's world headquarters are located. There he as been hidden from the public while Chevron pays for his legal fees and counsel. Depending on the outcome of the deposition Chevron could find itself in not only a very embarrassing situation but also a very illegal one.

As the truth in Ecaudor continues to back Chevron into a corner we unfortunately can expect more baseless fireworks and delay tactics. However, a recent article on Dow Jones is hopeful in describing the case as "entering a decisive stage." Then we can turn our focus from Chevron's shenanigans to Chevron's clean up in the Amazon communities that have waited to long for Chevron to do what's right.

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