“Amazon Chernobyl” Disaster in Ecuador, Brazil Spill Lead to Embarrassing Award for CEO John Watson
Amazon Defense Coalition, For Immediate Release – 25 November 2011, Contact: Karen Hinton, 703-798-3109, Karen@hintoncommunications.com
New York — The American oil giant Chevron has been named the “most toxic” energy company of 2011 by AlterNet, a prestigious U.S.-based online magazine that closely tracks environmental issues. See here and here.
Chevron won the sad award the same week it was caught lying to Brazilian authorities who threatened company officials with prison terms about a burgeoning offshore spill. The toxic designation also came in the same year Chevron lost the largest environmental lawsuit in history over its intentional contamination of what was once pristine rainforest in the Amazon of Ecuador.
The Ecuador contamination decimated indigenous groups and created an outbreak of cancer that has killed or threatens to kill thousands of people, according to evidence presented to an Ecuador court that recently ordered the company to pay $18 billion in damages. Chevron operated in Ecuador from 1964 to 1992 under the Texaco brand.
AlterNet reported that Chevron beat out ExxonMobile and BP, which ranked second and third respectively. Koch Industries and Massey Energy ranked fourth and fifth.
In its eye-opening report — “The 5 Most Toxic Energy Companies and How They Control Our Politics” — AlterNet cited Chevron’s misconduct in Ecuador as the primary reason it won the award.
AlterNet wrote: “Chevron’s worst legacy may be in Ecuador, where Texaco (now part of Chevron) spent 30 years decimating the ecologically rich Amazon rainforest and the many indigenous communities there.”
Victims in Ecuador refer to Chevron’s catastrophe as the “Amazon Chernobyl” and experts believe the damage dwarfs that caused by BP’s recent spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Unlike the BP spill, which was an accident, Chevron designed its system of oil extraction in Ecuador to pollute as a way to lower production costs.
AlterNet also concluded that Chevron has paid $85 million on Washington lobbyists since 1998 to help cover up its wrongdoing. It wrote: “(Chevron) has … moved quite a large amount of cash through Washington and its business practices have resulted in an incredible loss of life. Much of it just happened out of the country, so many in the U.S. may have missed Chevron’s gross abuses.”
Chevron’s “most toxic” award follows a November 7th spill caused by the company in Brazil that has leaked an estimated 110,000 gallons of pure crude into the Atlantic Ocean. Brazilian officials and environmentalists were outraged after Chevron’s local spokesman lied about the origin of the spill, low-balled the number of barrels released into the ocean and told regulators the damage was contained when it wasn’t. See here.
Chevron was drilling deeper than it was licensed to by the Brazilian government and had to borrow sonar equipment to try to determine the source of the spill, according to the U.S.-based environmental group Amazon Watch. Carlos Minc, an official in Brazil’s Rio province, called the spill an “environmental crime” and said it took Chevron almost ten days to start containing it.
In Ecuador, Chevron has declared open warfare on the country’s government by suing it in various courts in a desperate attempt to shift the $18 billion liability to Petroecuador, the state-owned oil company.
The Ecuador judgment, issued after an eight-year trial, also found that Chevron left behind more than 900 unlined waste pits gouged out of the jungle floor that to this day contaminate groundwater and discharge oil sludge into nearby rivers and streams. Because of the pollution, thousands of people in the region no longer have access to clean drinking water.
AlterNet’s report took into account a variety of factors in reaching its conclusions. Among them were loss of life, the extent of environmental destruction, and the use of false advertising to cover up misconduct.
Chevron has been widely mocked for its “We Agree” ad campaign and spends far more money each year buying publicity than it has ever spent cleaning up its toxic legacy in Ecuador, said Karen Hinton, the U.S. spokesperson for the Ecuadorians.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that Chevron under its current CEO John Watson has become the most rogue of energy companies and has fostered an internal culture of impunity when it comes to abuses,” Hinton said.
“There is little doubt Chevron’s ‘Most Toxic’ award is richly deserved,” she added.
Hinton said a significant portion of Chevron’s lobbying funds were used to try to convince the U.S. government to cut trade preferences for Ecuador in retaliation for letting its citizens press their legal claims against the company. Cutting trade preferences would have cost Ecuador an estimated 300,000 jobs.
In the meantime, Amazon Watch appealed via email to its global network of supporters to send a message to the Brazilian government backing a strong response to the recent spill.
“Anyone familiar with the ongoing battle to bring Chevron to justice in Ecuador knows that the company will do everything it can to protect its profits even at the expense of the planet and human health,” wrote Amazon Watch in the email.
Rainforest Action Network, another prominent American environmental group, also blasted Chevron for the Brazil spill and issued a warning to other countries who are thinking about doing business with the American company.
“Countries like Brazil should be cautious about doing business with Chevron considering how long the oil giant has evaded responsibility for its environmental crimes in Ecuador,” said Ginger Cassidy, an official with the organization.