Denver, CO – One of Chevron’s lawyers at the law firm of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher flew into a panic during a recent deposition when an American consulting expert began to testify about the massive quantities of toxins dumped by the oil giant in Ecuador, where Chevron faces a multi-billion dollar legal liability, according to court papers filed recently.
Chevron is being sued by more than 30,000 residents for illegally dumping billions of gallons of toxic contaminants, poisoning an area of the Ecuadorian rainforest the size of Rhode Island and creating what is believed to be the world’s largest oil-related disaster. The lawsuit, originally filed in U.S. federal court in 1993, was moved to Ecuador at Chevron’s request in 2002. The plaintiffs recently submitted a damages assessment against Chevron of up to $113 billion in part to cover the costs of cleanup at 916 sites and compensation for an estimated 10,000 cancer deaths.
Faced with overwhelming scientific evidence of the contamination in Ecuador, Chevron recently returned to U.S. courts to seek discovery of 23 Americans associated with the case. This led to the deposition in San Diego on Sept. 10 of the American consulting expert, William Powers. `
In a legal brief filed on Sept. 28, lawyers for the Ecuadorian communities recount how Chevron lawyer Andrea Neuman – charged with trying to “rescue” Chevron from its massive Ecuador liability — clearly panicked when Powers tried to testify about the oil giant’s responsibility for the contamination.
After Powers had been deposed for several hours by Chevron, a lawyer for the Amazonian communities suing Chevron indicated that he had some additional questions. Powers is considered a leading authority on oil field contamination and had visited the sites of Chevron’s operations in Ecuador on various occasions.
The mere suggestion that Powers might be cross-examined “set off a panic among Chevron’s counsel,” according to the brief of the Amazonian communities. No wonder – when Powers finally was able to speak, he testified that Chevron’s practices in Ecuador caused an environmental disaster that was at least 30 times larger than the crude discharged in the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.
To avoid this damaging testimony, Neuman went to great lengths to shut down the questioning.
“First, Ms. Neuman claimed that the “office is closing” and therefore Mr. Wilson could not cross-examine Mr. Powers,” according to the brief filed by the plaintiffs.
Neuman then stated the questioning could not go forward because Chevron was not “notified” that it would happen – a remarkable assertion given that it is standard for depositions to conclude with a cross-examination.
Neuman then claimed the cameraman taking video of the deposition “has to pack up”. When that didn’t work, a Gibson Dunn colleague claimed they only had “five minutes” to listen to questions.
Finally, Neuman claimed that Mr. Wilson – who is from New York and is a partner in the firm of Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff & Abady — could not ask questions because he was not admitted to the bar in California despite the fact the Gibson Dunn lawyers had agreed to his participation earlier in the day.
“Notwithstanding this obstreperous conduct, and Chevron’s blatant attempt to hide the truth, Mr. Wilson insisted on fifteen minutes of cross-examination, during which the building did not shut down, the office did not close, the cameraman did not have to pack up, and no one had to leave the building,” the lawyers wrote in the brief.
Not surprisingly, the testimony from Powers was devastating for Chevron. Here are some highlights, with the questions being asked by Mr. Wilson:
Q: Now, when Chevron-Texaco designed its pits in the Ecuadorian Amazon, what design did it use?
Powers: Dug a hole in the dirt and deposited the drilling muds in the unlined hole.
Q: And if Chevron-Texaco was designing those pits in the United States, would it have been able to dig a pit in the — and put in the drilling muds as you described?
Q: What’s the consequence of Chevron’s design of its pits in the Lago Agrio concession?
Powers: Two consequences: the leeching of the chemicals into the ground, and ultimately into the ground water; and the overflow of the pits due to lack of maintenance and rain water and overflowing directly into the drainage channels surrounding that pit.
Q: And what’s the basis for your conclusions concerning the Chevron-Texaco’s pits?
Powers: Having viewed the pits and reviewed the nature of how those pits were designed, utilized, and the fact that — it is uncontested that the pits were left with drilling mud in them.
Q: And when Chevron developed the oil field in Ecuador, did it do so in conformity with standards for treatment of production water that were in place in the United States at the time that it was building its infrastructure in Ecuador?
Q: Can you describe the ways in which Chevron’s Ecuadorian concession fell below standards it would have been required to meet if that field were in the United States?:
Powers: Based on the salinity and the produced water from the field, the company would have been required to reinject that water into a subsurface formation. Could not have operated that oil field or produced a single barrel of oil without having that produced water injection system operational.
Q: By failing to reinject production water in the Lago Agrio concession, what impact did that have on the environment in Lago Agrio?
Powers: It contaminated the surface water at the points where it was injected, not only with the high salinity of the produced water in an environment that has almost no natural salinity, but the trace contaminants of heavy metals and oil also contributed to the generalized contamination of that surface water.
Q: If you include the produced water in your comparison between the discharge into the environment from Chevron’s Lago Agrio concession, when you compare that to the Exxon-Valdez oil discharge from that catastrophe, how would you compare them?
Powers: Both the produced water and the crude oil are toxic. The — you can argue about the relative toxicity of them both. But the amount of toxic liquids that should not have been in the environment in Ecuador was at least 30 times the quantity or the volume of crude that was spilled in the Exxon-Valdez disaster.
Gibson Dunn boasts on its website that its litigators in the Ecuador case – led by Neuman and Scott Edelman – are “Game Changers”; the firm cites a legal publication that “clients in deep trouble turn to Gibson Dunn for fresh, aggressive thinking and innovative rescues.”
“Given Andrea Neuman’s conduct, Gibson Dunn’s ‘rescue’ operation for Chevron apparently doesn’t include acknowledging the truth about the reckless conduct of its client in Ecuador,” said Karen Hinton, a spokesperson for the Amazonian communities.