Wednesday, October 14, 2009
History 130 Years of People, Partnership and Performance
Our company has a long, robust history, which began when a group of explorers and merchants established the Pacific Coast Oil Co. on Sept. 10, 1879. Since then, our company's name has changed more than once, but we've always retained our founders' spirit, grit, innovation and perseverance.
Over the past 130 years, we joined with other companies, each with their own history, strengths and character. We've grown from a San Francisco-based company with a five-state market in the Western United States to a major corporation whose subsidiaries conduct business worldwide. Throughout, we’ve retained our fundamental purpose: to provide the energy people need to fuel human progress.
After 16 years, several judges, accusations of espionage, and more twists and turns than a spy novel, the case of Amazon peasants versus the mighty Chevron may soon be coming to an end. If you're unfamiliar with the case, Chevron stands accused of dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into the Amazon rainforest, which left local people stricken by cancer, miscarriages and birth defects. The New York Times yesterday looked into some of the recent plot twists that involve a revolving door for judges and secret video tapes.
Ever since the oil giant released videos in August that were secretly taped by two businessmen who seemed to have the ambition of feasting off the expected $27 billion in damages sought, Ecuadorean officials and Chevron have accused each other of gross improprieties, including espionage.
The Ecuadorean judge hearing the case recused himself after he appeared in the recordings discussing the case and potential damages. He was returned to the case by another judge, but he was then removed again.
The two mysterious businessmen, who used watches and pens implanted with bugging devices to make the recordings, have refused to explain their motivations for going to the furtive meetings in Quito and a jungle outpost to discuss a bribery plot. And now, with questions mounting, one of them has enlisted a lawyer who has represented Barry Bonds.
No one really know what will happen as a result of the tapes. They appear to have been recorded without consent, making them illegal under Ecuadorean law. Chevron claims they have nothing to do with the tapes, but they are using them to try to prove there is a conspiracy against them.
Amazon Watch and Rainforest Action Network have been following the $27 billion dollar lawsuit, the largest environmental lawsuit in history. 60 Minutes profiled the lawsuit in a much discussed piece that you can view here.
Amazon Crude on 60 Minutes
In San Francisco Court for Nigerian Human Rights Case
Chevron Faces Torture, Wrongful Death, Assault, And Other Claims
Chevron is in San Francisco Federal Court this week, defending itself against charges that it helped kill two Nigerian villagers who were protesting the companies' lack of social responsibility and regard for the environment. At the heart of the case is the question of whether Nigerian protesters did so peacefully or with force. More below the fold.
Chevron has hired William J. Haynes, a former Bush Administration lawyer, to take their case. Nigerian protesters are testifying against Chevron in response to violent reactions to a 1998 protest they took part in on a barge tethered to a Chevron offshore rig. The 100 to 150 Nigerian protesters on the barge claim they were peacefully opposing the companies' environmental and economic wrong-doings in the region when, on May 28, 1998, helicopters flew Nigerian soldiers onto the rig. The soldiers fired into the crowd on the barge, killing two protesters and injuring others.
The case is expected to run through December and has just begun to highlight the environmental and economic damage Chevron is having on the Niger Delta.
Other human rights and environmentally related cases Chevron currently faces include:
-in Ecuador, Chevron lawyers and local government officials are being faced with charges for lying about environmental damages caused by what has been called the worst oil-related disaster on Earth
-in Burma, Chevron is being criticized for a pipeline project that produces close to $1 billion annually for the country's military regime
The US imports more oil from Nigeria than it does from Iraq. Yet Nigeria, and the myriad human rights and environmental abuses associated with oil development there, are rarely in the news.
Yesterday, I joined a group of Nigerian activists and environmental and social justice advocates from around the Bay Area at a rally to mark the opening of a landmark court case, Bowoto v. Chevron. Chevron is being sued by 19 plaintiffs, including organizer Larry Bowoto, for partnering with a notoriously violent military force to fire upon a peaceful protest of over a hundred villagers in the Niger Delta.
The case is one of the first times a U.S. corporation has been tried in the United States for human rights abuses it committed abroad. As young people who are increasingly aware of the often violent journey a gallon of oil takes from a foreign country to our gas tank, this case is well worth paying attention to.
Dan Firger, a law student who will be live blogging the court case over the next week, explained the background yesterday:
In 1998, Larry Bowoto and about 100 other community members staged a peaceful protest at one of Chevron’s offshore oil platforms, demanding a meeting between company representatives and village elders to negotiate for the job training and education programs they had been promised in exchange for the severe environmental harms they had been forced to endure. They were unarmed, and after receiving word that Chevron would attend a meeting in a nearby village the following day, they prepared to leave the platform peacefully.
Before they could do so, three company helicopters carrying Nigerian military personnel swooped down on the platform and opened fire, killing two people and injuring several others, including Bowoto. Allegedly acting at the direction of Chevron, soldiers detained and tortured several other protestors, after which company personnel paid them for their services.
Bowoto and his co-plaintiffs filed their suit in 1999 in United States District Court in San Francisco. After nearly a decade of legal wrangling, the case now stands as an important milestone in the history of international human rights law: for the first time, a U.S. company could potentially be held liable in U.S. courts for gross human rights abuses committed in their overseas operations.
The fact that the case has even made it to court is a major accomplishment, as Chevron has battled it every step of the way. Chevron isn’t alone in its efforts to block human rights cases. Oil companies have a long history of attempting to subvert the legal process to escape trial. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on Sunday:
A suit against Unocal by Burmese villagers, who blamed the company for forced labor, rape and torture by soldiers at a natural gas pipeline, was scheduled for trial in Los Angeles in 2005, but the company settled it for an undisclosed amount of money. A suit similar to Bowoto’s, filed against Royal Dutch Shell by Nigerians including relatives of Ken Saro-Wiwa, a writer and activist hanged by the military regime in 1995, is scheduled to go to trial in New York in February.
“Courts have been vigilant in allowing only the most well-founded cases to go forward,” said attorney Marco Simons of the nonprofit advocacy group EarthRights International, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. A victory in this case, he said, would send a message to corporations operating abroad that “if they are complicit in human rights abuses, they can expect to be held accountable.”
The Chronicle article also gives Chevron’s point of view in the case. The company claims that Boweto and his group were not peaceful protesters, but armed mercenaries. From what I’ve read, this doesn’t seem to be the case, but the Niger Delta is an incredibly tumultuous and complicated place. Either way, the oil company was deeply involved in the violence and the case is a bold attempt to hold them accountable.
A coalition of groups in the Bay Area is mobilizing to draw attention to the case and support the Nigerian plaintiffs. The following groups are all good resources to learn more about the issues behind this case: Amazon Watch, Global Exchange, Rainforest Action Network Food and Water Watch , People’s Health Movement , Hesperian Foundation , Other Worlds, West County Toxics, Communities for a Better Environment, Burmese American Democratic Alliance, Filipino/American Coalition for Environmental Solidarity, Asian Pacific Environmental Network - Laoian Organizing Project.
Corporate Pollution in Ecuador, Biggest Environmental lawsuit in history. Chevron Vs Ecuador27 July, 2009 4 comments Uncategorized
I have sourced a couple of exerpts on what could eb the biggest lawsuit in history, a horrific example of a corporation, strongly linked with the government, putting profit infront of the environment in a less developed company.
It is easy to strike oil in Lago Agrio these days.
"After almost 40 years of drilling, this stretch of Amazon jungle on Ecuador’s border with Colombia is pockmarked with long, deep pits of viscous black crude or blended oil and earth that the locals call “swimming pools”.
About 916 pits were used by Texaco Petroleum, the US oil major, and PetroEcuador, the state company, for the 23 years before Texaco’s exit from the country in 1992.
Now they are at the centre of what is shaping up to be the biggest environmental lawsuit in history, with $27bn (€19bn, £16bn) in potential damages sought against Chevron, which bought Texaco in 2001. That is almost seven times the damages awarded against ExxonMobil for its 1989 Alaska spill.
“The only other oil problem that might be comparable is the first Gulf war, in which Iraq trashed Kuwait’s oil fields,” says Douglas Beltman, an environmental scientist for the plaintiffs, rubbing crude-tainted mud from a riverbank between his fingers. “That’s the scale of contamination we are looking at.”
(And thats from a US corporation! not the regimes the US so vehemently hate, Tom)
"After 15 years of litigation, almost every other aspect of the case is contested. Lawyers who brought the class-action suit against Chevron say Texaco operated below environmental standards of the day to maximise profits.
They allege the company released 18.5bn gallons of produced water – the hot salty byproduct of drilling – into waterways instead of reinjecting it deep into the earth; that it used unlined earthen pits for permanent rather than temporary storage of waste; and that it chose not to report many spills. They allege widespread contamination of waterways and high levels of associated sickness, including cancer.
Chevron, the world’s third biggest oil company, denies the charges, accusing the plaintiffs of a blatant “shakedown” and the court of bias.
It says its responsibility ended when it cleaned up 37.5 per cent of the well sites as part of a $40m remediation agreement with the Ecuadorean government in 1995. PetroEcuador, Texaco’s consortium partner, which continues to operate in Lago Agrio, has responsibility for the remaining sites, it argues. PetroEcuador declined to comment.
In the 15 years that Chevron has been fighting the charges in both US and Ecuadorean courts, it has seen the damages claim shoot up to exceed its estimates of the $490m profit it says Texaco made over 26 years as operator of the consortium."
“We feel the court process in Ecuador is so badly tainted it is virtually irredeemable at this point,” says James Craig, a Chevron spokesman, standing on a site he says Texaco successfully remediated. “We are being pursued under a law that did not exist until nine years after Texaco ceased to operate in the country . . . They [the plaintiffs] illegally abandoned the evidential phase of the trial, which required both sides to present scientific evidence to a panel of five experts for assessment."
Ecuador Says- "Away from the courtroom, locals have seen little of the vast wealth that has flowed from the ground.
“All of our water in contaminated,” said Leonor Velasquez, a diminutive woman waiting in a health clinic. “We all have rashes, I am so itchy all the time.”
Donald Moncayo, an activist who conducts “toxic tours”, illustrated her point at a creek behind a nearby abandoned house, digging into the bank to reveal blackened soil reeking of oil. “Before it was worse,” he said. “This river was black, and the animals passed by and drank the water . . . the chickens and pigs were black.”
Roberto Poncé believes his son Jose Luis’s death from leukaemia seven years ago was linked to contamination by the oil industry. Jose Luis died the day after his 17th birthday."
"Ecuadorian trial judge, Juan Nuñez, hands down his decision this year, In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Nuñez, denied bias, saying the only pressure he felt was that of his own conscience. “People say this is the case of the century, that what happens here is important not just for Ecuador but for all humanity . . . I see with my eyes. I see the damage; I see the contamination in the rivers.”
So there's a little bit, obviously there is two sides to the story, in terms of the litigation that is. But in my eyes, even if Chevron has been legally indemnified, has cleaned up 37.5% or whatever of the pollution, the muck is still there, and it represents a complete failure to act as a civilised race, unified by our part in Gaia (the earth system, google it, or i can blog it if anyone requests).
I think it is disgusting that a developed country can do this sort of thing, and i think its excellent that, at least in this case, the Ecuadorians (right word?) are fighting back, and doing a fair job of it. It would definitley be worth reading up further on this case, i think it could be quite applicable to the Indonesian YEs and i will blog any updates, especially as to the eagerly awaited verdict on this "case of the century".