Environmental advocates are determined to continue a decade-long legal battle to force Chevron to accept responsibility for the devastating contamination of the Ecuadorian Amazon.
From the 1960s to 1990s, international oil giant Texaco conducted extensive drilling and pipeline operations in the Ecuadorian Amazon jungle. During this period, Texaco deliberately dumped over 16 billion gallons of toxic waste into the area, the effects of which are still being felt decades later. In the years since, it has become known as one of the world’s largest environmental disasters, sometimes called the “Amazon Chernobyl.” An estimated 30,000 people have been affected, primarily isolated indigenous tribes.
Regardless of the mountain of evidence connecting them to the pollution and its effects, Chevron refuses to pay the US $9.5 billion ordered by Ecuador’s supreme court. Since, Texaco (which has since been acquired by Chevron) no longer holds assets in Ecuador, plaintiffs have been forced to petition the U.S. and Canada to collect damages. In a recent interview with Telesur, U.S. lawyer Steve Donziger, who originally headed up a lawsuit against Texaco back in 1993, explains Texaco has “used subterfuge, intimidation, fraud and threats to delay the judicial process every step of the way… employed 2,000 lawyers and 60 law firms to delay the process, calculating it’s cheaper to pay huge sums to lawyers than to meet its legal responsibilities to clean up its toxic dumping in Ecuador”.
The drilling took place in the northern region of the Ecuadorian Amazon, known as the Oriente. Texaco’s oil workers founded the base-camp town of Nueva Loja, sometimes called Lago Agrio, in the middle of the pristine rain forest, disregarding the nearby encampments of Amazonian tribes. Texaco’s destructive practices included emptying billions of gallons of toxic wastewater and crude oil into surface streams, abandoning hazardous waste in unlined pits and spreading noxious gases through flaring. The brackish, contaminated wastewater circulating throughout the rivers of the Oriente is known as “produced water” or “formation water”, a highly saline byproduct of drilling that often contains petroleum and toxic heavy metals.
Texaco’s decision, which was estimated to have saved the company a mere USD $3 per barrel of oil, has permanently destroyed much of the area’s ecosystem and once rich biodiversity. The contamination has also been cited as the cause for alarming increases in the rate of illness among local indigenous tribes, including the Cofán, Siona, Secoya, Kichwa and Huaorani. Residents have reported experiencing skin rashes, infections and diarrhea from bathing in the yellowish, foamy streams, some of which are visibly blocked by decades-old sludge. As cited by ChevronToxico, one of the main campaign groups seeking justice for Ecuador,
“Studies have attributed at least 1401 excess cancer deaths in the region to oil contamination, as well as an elevated rate of pregnancies ending in miscarriage.”
The rivers and streams are imperative to daily activities such as washing, cooking and bathing. Additionally, fish and wildlife have disappeared, leaving families impoverished because sources of fish, game and natural materials (often sold or traded) have vanished. As Texaco continues to avoid responsibility and delay cleaning up its mess in the Ecuadorian Amazon, residents are left with few options for alternative sources of water and are continuing to fall ill, as their quality of life has been irreparably damaged.
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