Chevron-Texaco’s chemical genocide in Ecuador

The writer is a journalist who reports for Free Speech Radio News and is currently working on the case against Chevron-Texaco mentioned in the article.

Pits the size of football fields filled with a choking sludge of oil and dead animals. Children suffering from leukemia at four times the national average. Birth defects and miscarriages soaring. Drinking and bathing water polluted by carcinogens for hundreds of square kilometers.

The unhindered oil pollution of Ecuador’s pristine rainforest began in 1964 and lasted for almost three decades. When


Toxic sludge pit left behind by Chevron-Texaco. Photo: Amazon Watch, 2003.

Texaco Oil walked out of the country with $30 billion in profits stashed in its pockets, it left a toxic legacy for 30,000 rainforest dwellers that was 30 times worse than the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska.

From 1964 until 1992, the U.S. corporation dumped in excess of 18.5 billion gallons of acutely toxic “produced water” into more than 650 open and unlined pits, as well as directly into the swamps, streams and rivers that make up the Amazon rainforest of north-eastern Ecuador. The byproduct of drilling, “produced water” contains some of the most dangerous known chemicals, including benzene, toluene, and Policyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs). The result has been what environmental experts believe to be the worst case of oil pollution on the planet and, after Chernobyl, possibly the second-worst environmental catastrophe in human history.

Texaco chose not to use a standard oil industry practice of firing toxic waste back into the bored well cavity in an operation called re-injection. It thus saved itself between $1.5 and $4.5 billion in operation expenses in a conscious and rapacious decision to choose profit over the lives of the local population. Texaco’s home state of Texas has laws requiring re-injection that go back as far as 1919.

In 2002, Chevron took over Texaco and inherited its Ecuadorian devastation, but the company failed to live up to CEO Dave O’Reilly’s promise to “develop affordable, reliable energy supplies in a safe, environmentally responsible way” or Chevron’s website claim to “conduct our business in a socially responsible and ethical manner,” forcing five indigenous groups, under the aegis of the Amazon Defense Coalition, to file a class-action multi-billion-dollar lawsuit against the oil giant in 2003 that many legal experts believe will prevail.

Fake clean-up

Chevron does not deny that Texaco dumped the toxic waste into the rainforest, but defends its position by maintaining that the Ecuadorian government released it from further clean-up operations after a fraudulent remediation program that did nothing to offset the damage Texaco had done to the environment.

The “clean-up” remediation program cost Texaco no more than $40 million and basically involved covering open dump sites with topsoil, allowing the toxic content of the waste pits to continue seeping into the water table, contaminating the drinking water of many thousands of rainforest inhabitants who have no choice but to slowly poison themselves as they consume the water and bathe in polluted streams. Aside from birth defects and a high rate of child leukemia, hundreds of people have already died from cancers relating to the oil carcinogens, and many hundreds more are expected to succumb.

One of the attorneys on the joint Ecuadorian-U.S. legal team is New York-based Steve Donziger. He says that the remediation work was more “a cover up than a clean up. They just took dirt and ran it over the pits without cleaning them out. You cannot live over a toxic waste pit without being exposed to carcinogens. We learned that from Love Canal.”

An independent environmental engineering consultancy, E-Tech International, has determined that Chevron’s waste management practices in the Amazon would never have been permitted in the United States and that a like area in the United States would not be deemed fit for human habitation under current U.S. environmental law.


Chevron, with its back to the wall, appears to be reverting or acquiescing to more distasteful tactics of intimidation, a sign of its desperation in the face of approaching defeat.

Plaintiffs and the Amazon Defense Coalition that was formed in Ecuador to pursue the case against Chevron-Texaco, have suffered death threats, a kidnapping attempt, burglaries of offices and constant military surveillance. In January, the Organization of American States demanded that the Ecuadorian government provide the original four plaintiffs with a guarantee of “life and physical integrity,” and Amnesty International recently issued two alerts to protect the plaintiffs as well as staff members of the Amazon Defense Coalition.

The threats are not without precedent. In 1981, Ecuador’s popular president, Jaime Roldos, was killed in a plane


Photo: Louis Yansa Frente de Defensa, 2003.

crash after taking on Texaco in defense of his nation’s sovereignty. Roldos had attempted to wrest back control of oil deposits in his country so that all future exploitation would benefit his people rather than U.S. multinational oil corporations. It is generally believed that he was assassinated by the CIA.

One of the more contentious issues is that the Chevron legal team has in the past operated from within a military base in the jungle town of Lago Agrio where the trial is taking place. It is thought that the threats against the plaintiffs and Amazon Defense Coalition staff arise from Chevron’s association with the military.


The U.S.-based environmental group Amazon Watch has called on the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate fraud allegations against Chevron for failing to disclose the Ecuadorian lawsuit to shareholders, and the Ecuadorian government recently filed its own complaint against the oil company for its fraudulent application of the remediation program. Amazon Watch executive-director Atossa Soltani estimates Chevron’s liability at $10-$20 billion if personal damages to the victims are included.

Delaying tactics by Chevron-Texaco, which masquerades in the United States as the “environmental oil corporation” that “respects the law, supports universal human rights, protects the environment, and benefits the communities where we work,” amount to no less than “chemical warfare and genocide,” says Steve Donziger.

At the oil corporation’s annual general meeting in Houston on April 26, Chevron’s CEO was forced to directly face representatives of the indigenous peoples whom he has chosen to ignore. In a dramatic public relations nightmare for O’Reilly, Emergildo Criollo, who represents the almost-extinct Cofan people in the Ecuadorian rainforest, told him that the very survival of his language, culture and people is at risk.

“I am here to ask you to live up to your ethical responsibilities and clean up the contamination that is destroying my people,” said Criollo.

Just as he has the other 30,000 indigenous people falling sick one by one in the Ecuadorian rainforest, O’Reilly completely ignored him.

Joseph Mutti can be reached at [email protected]. For more information on the Texaco case visit A version of this article first appeared on Green Left Weekly’s website in Australia.


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