Ecuador-Chevron case: New videos reveal Chevron attempts to cover up evidence of petroleum pollution in the Amazon

Amazon Watch releases video evidence depicting attempts by Chevron employees to cover up evidence of pollution in the Ecuadorean Amazon, in the latest twist in the long-running case against Chevron-Texaco.

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New video evidence has emerged suggesting that Chevron employees went to great lengths to cover up pollution in the Ecuadorean Amazon. Last week the environmental and human rights NGO Amazon Watch released a video, reportedly sent to them by a Chevron whistle-blower four years ago, which shows employees of the US oil giant pointing out and joking about various discoveries of soil contaminated with oil. The videos are said to date from 2005 and 2006, and according to Amazon Watch they demonstrate that “Chevron has finally been proven in its own videos not only to have lied about contamination, but to have hidden evidence it knew would cost lives”.

Local communities and advocates have long alleged that Texaco, which was acquired by Chevron in 2001, was responsible for leaving billions of gallons of toxic wastewater and hundreds of abandoned open-air toxic waste pits in areas in which they operated between the 1960s and early 1990s, causing widespread disease, defects and other health hazards among local communities. The new video includes snippets of interviews carried out by the Chevron whistle-blower with some of the local residents, who state that their communities have remained badly polluted and claim that Texaco never cleaned some of their waste pits, covering them up with dirt in an attempt to conceal them instead.

Chevron, which assumed all of Texaco’s assets and legal liabilities when it bought the former company, has long denied these charges and has engaged in a lengthy legal dispute against a US$9.5bn fine imposed on the company by an Ecuadorean court in 2011. However, this new evidence appears to run counter to Chevron’s claims that Texaco had completed all clean-up responsibilities before leaving the country.

In a press release on their website, Amazon Watch explained that numerous DVDs containing the top-secret videos had been sent to them four years ago, accompanied by a hand-written note saying “I hope this is useful for you in the trial against Texaco/Chevron! A friend from Chevron”. However, due to threats against the organisation from Chevron, including a court injunction taken out by the oil giant against the videos’ publication – based on the claim that this would interfere with the ongoing legal dispute between the corporation and the defence team – they have only just been allowed to come to light. Amazon Watch claims that the threats were a tacit admission that the DVDs were indeed Chevron property, and that as such their authenticity can be in no doubt. Chevron appear to accept this, though they have claimed that the videos have been edited and “taken out of context”.

The Chevron whistle-blower sent dozens of labelled DVDs containing the videos to Amazon Watch in 2011, but following legal concerns they have only just been allowed to come to light. Photo courtesy of Amazon Watch.

In the videos, Chevron employees and consultants are seen to be secretly visiting the former Texaco well sites, in search of “clean” spots from which they could take soil and water samples, to be used in inspections of the areas, in order to “prove” that there was indeed no pollution, according to Amazon Watch. Unfortunately for the oil workers, however, the videos show that the soil samples consistently proved to be contaminated with oil, something that then became the butt of jokes by the workers in the video with one employee, apparently named Rene, mocking a colleague by joking: “you keep finding oil in places where it shouldn’t have been… Nice job, Dave. Give you one simple task: Don’t find petroleum!”

“These explosive videos confirm what the Ecuadorean Supreme Court has found after reviewing the evidence: that Chevron has lied for years about its pollution problem in Ecuador”, says the Ecuador Programme Director at Amazon Watch, Kevin Koenig. “The videos show company technicians discussing in stark terms the presence of oil pollution in places where they told the court it didn’t exist. This is corruption caught on tape”.

“This is smoking gun evidence that shows Chevron hands are dirty – first for contaminating the region, and then for manipulating and hiding critical evidence”, adds Amazon Watch’s Outreach Director, Paul Paz y Miño. “The behaviour of Chevron throughout the litigation reflects a grossly unethical internal culture that clearly is encouraged at the highest levels of the company”.

Meanwhile, Steven Donziger, a US lawyer who has been representing the Ecuadorean villagers in their case against Chevron, told VICE News that “efforts by [Chevron’s lawyers] to suppress these stunning tapes is part of a much larger litigation strategy designed to create a smokescreen around the company’s criminal acts in Ecuador with the goal of distracting shareholders, the financial markets, regulators, and ultimately courts from learning the truth”.

Victims of the pollution have long claimed that Texaco – now owned by Chevron – left hundreds of abandoned open-air toxic waste pits containing spilled crude oil, such as this one, in the Amazon region of eastern Ecuador. Photo courtesy of Reuters via Telesur.

While the videos are shocking for the apparent extent of collusion carried out by Chevron workers on the ground, they are also by no means the first instance of evidence of foul play. In 2009, a company consultant admitted to having switched contaminated soil samples for clean ones during the trial process in Ecuador. Furthermore, in 2011 a “judicial inspection playbook”, circulated by Chevron among some of its employees, was revealed to direct company technicians to take soil samples from locations situated above and up-stream from the waste pits, in an attempt to hide the worst of the contamination from inspectors.

Even after the 2011 Ecuadorean ruling, which was backed up by the country’s highest court two years later, Chevron has engaged in a legal war against the defence team – comprised of victims of the pollution, and their supporters – in an attempt to prevent enforcement of the ruling. They have pursued the case in several US courts, with a New York court ruling last year that the Ecuadorean ruling had been reached fraudulently. However, this has been contradicted by a recent ruling by the International Court of Justice at The Hague, which said that the 2011 decision should be upheld and damages paid by Chevron to the Ecuadorean villagers.

The latest chapter in the long-running saga is set to unfurl next week, as a federate appellate court in Manhattan hears evidence in the appeal against last year’s New York ruling that the 2011 Ecuadorean judgment was fraudulent and illegitimate. It is the latest step in efforts to ensure that Chevron cannot continue to dodge the fine by taking its case to different jurisdictions, and to make sure that it faces up to its responsibility and compensates the tens of thousands of Amazonian inhabitants whose communities and lives have been wrecked by Texaco’s pollution and their failure to clean up after themselves. The latest video evidence, while unlikely to swing the outcome of a vastly complicated legal situation one way or the other, serves to confirm long-held beliefs that Chevron is prepared to go to any length to continue obstructing justice, while denying the overwhelming evidence of its wrongdoing.

The Ecuadorean President, Rafael Correa, has gotten personally involved with a nationwide campaign to bring evidence of Texaco-Chevron’s wrongdoing, by visiting the abandoned waste pits and demonstrating the presence of vast quantities of spilled crude oil. Photo courtesy of Reuters via Telesur.