The black toxic sludge part of the toxic waste dump by Chevron

Devastating Environmental Impact on Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest from Dumping of Toxic Oil Waste

Texaco corporation now owned by Chevron is responsible for one of the most devastating historic oil spills in Ecuador. Specifically, Texaco’s operation in Lago Agrio is where the company dumped toxic oil waste into the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest. Furthermore, “The lungs of the planet” were a dumping ground for toxic waste from oil corporations.

Mainly, the magnitude of the toxic waste dumped should be alarming. But the after-effects are even more disturbing. With at least, 18 billion US gallons of toxic waste and 17 million gallons of crude oil dumped. Mainly, on sensitive rainforest soil in an area spanning 4,400 square kms.

Chevron, the company that now owns the firm Texaco – which admitted to the damage it caused between 1964 and 1992. Surprisingly, it was cleared of responsibility by the international tribunal of The Hague in 2018. This means charges of billions of dollars for indemnity that could have set a precedent in holding big oil accountable were lost. And an action that could have send a strong signal to the rest of the industry was lost.

If we compare the toxic waste Texaco dumped to the amount of oil released in other major oil disasters it’s about 85 times the size of the pollution.

 “Largest spill of oil in the history of marine oil drilling operations”

-US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Over three decades of oil drilling in the Ecuadorian Amazon by Chevron. Mainly, dumping more than 16 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into the rainforest, leaving local people suffering a wave of cancers, miscarriages, and birth defects. This is the case all of us should know about.

Size of the Devastation

The black toxic sludge part of the toxic waste dump by Chevron
The black toxic sludge part of the toxic waste dump by Chevron

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To this day, the situation often dubbed as the ‘Chernobyl of the Amazon’ affects people’s health.

Specifically, Academic research found that cancer rates are higher among locals.

At least six academic studies between 2001 and 2010 expressed concern, one by the US National Institutes of Health.

Mainly, it largely affects on the indigenous people who live near ground zero oil sites, near pits where the waste was dumped, and within oil blocks. Furthermore, these oil fields are still dangerously close to human settlements.

Meanwhile, Chevron states on its website that the company is “defending itself against false allegations that it is responsible for alleged environmental and social harms in the Amazon region of Ecuador”. Chevron is clearly forgoing its corporate social responsibility towards the pollution it has caused.

Whereas even without Texaco and Chevron, the oil pollution continues, as recent scientific studies show.

This area of the north-eastern Ecuadorian Amazon, which is rich in biodiversity and cultural heritage. Researchers from the University of Toulouse counted 464 spill events releasing an estimated 10,000 tonnes of crude oil between 2001 and 2011, long after Texaco left the country.

“There’s a need for a legally binding UN treaty on transnational corporations and human rights” to address these issues of pollution”.

Nick Meynen, the environmental and economic justice policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau

Health Effects

While drilling in the Ecuadorian Amazon from 1964 to 1990, Texaco which merged with Chevron in 2001 deliberately dumped toxic waste. Being more than 16 billion gallons of toxic wastewater spilled roughly 17 million gallons of crude oil.

The truth is Chevron’s actions cause death, cancer, birth defects, miscarriages, and reckless destruction of the Amazon.

Local residents believe the pollution has led to health problems such as cancer and birth defects.

Cancers of the stomach, liver, and throat reportedly became more common in the region, as did childhood leukemia.

And left hazardous waste in hundreds of open pits dug out of the forest floor. Mainly, to save money about $3 per barrel the company chose to use environmental practices that were obsolete. Additionally, the company did not meet industry standards and was illegal in Ecuador and the United States.

Instead of taking responsibility and trying to remediate their disaster, Chevron has launched a blitz of public relations and massive retaliatory legal actions.

Ever-lasting Environmental Impacts

The most aspect of this environmental disaster is the time period in which it lasted. Mainly, for over three decades, Chevron chose profit over people.

Contamination of soil, groundwater, and surface streams has caused local indigenous and campesino people to suffer. Chevron has never cleaned up the mess it inherited, and its oil wastes continue to poison the rainforest ecosystem.

For years local people in the Oriente region of Ecuador suffered the effects of oil contamination and the social upheaval brought by fossil fuel operations without any recourse. The communities founded around the oil operations, including the regional capital of Lago Agrio and smaller towns such as Shushufindi, exhibited the endemic violence and social ills characteristic of extractive industry boomtowns.

Some 30,000 local residents, including five different Amazonian tribes, began the lawsuit against Texaco in 1993.

The plaintiffs say that the oil company knowingly dumped 18bn gallons (68bn liters) of toxic wastewater. Additionally, even spilled 17m gallons of crude oil into the rainforest during its operations in northeast Ecuador.

They say the affected area covers 4,400 sq km (1,700 sq miles) on the border with Colombia.

The Lawsuit

Chevron Lawsuit
Chevron Lawsuit

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The plaintiffs in the case against Chevron represent a diverse group of over 30,000 indigenous people and campesino farmers living in and around the area affected by Texaco’s past oil operations. Whereas, groups outside Ecuador, including Amazon Watch, cooperate with the affected Ecuadorians to tell their stories. And to speak for themselves in front of Chevron executives, shareholders, and the concerned public.

The existence of this advocacy network, organized by the affected people themselves to keep their communities connected to developments in the trial, is an important accomplishment.

In this harsh environment, determined locals organized around issues of labor protection and human rights in spite of the fact that the notion of holding a multinational corporation legally accountable seemed remote and unachievable. Many figures active in the case against Chevron were working on human rights in the region as early as 1990. Over the past 25 years, new generations of activists have joined together with their parents and grandparents to make sure that their children can live in a healthy environment.

Unpunished Forever

In February of 2011, Chevron was found guilty and was liable to pay $9 billion to remediate the environmental damage. Additionally to pay for clean water and healthcare facilities for the affected population. As well as an additional $9 billion in punitive damages.

Chevron appealed all the way to the Ecuadorian supreme court, which issued its decision in November of 2013. In its 222-page opinion, the supreme court affirmed earlier decisions by a Lago Agrio court and the appellate court for $9 billion. But rejected the additional $9 billion in punitive damages, given that this was not explicitly mentioned under Ecuadorian law.

It also lamented the plaintiffs waiting twenty years for justice and attributed this largely to delaying tactics by Chevron.

Leading the Fight for Justice

Attorney Steven Donziger
Attorney Steven Donziger

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Donziger was first touched by the case that would consume his life as a young lawyer. While acting as a public defender in Washington. In 1993, he joined a legal team investigating reports of pollution in the Lago Agrio region of northern Ecuador, next to the country’s border with Colombia.

The oil company Texaco had carved out drilling outposts in this tract of the Amazon. Through drilling for oil since the 1960s, leaving what Donziger calls “grotesque” Olympic swimming pool-sized waste pits of oil.

“People there are living in a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions,” Donziger said. As he realized the magnitude of the health effects faced by the Amazonians.

A Spanish speaker, Donziger became ever more enmeshed in the case, traveling to Ecuador hundreds of times to assemble a case on behalf of local people. Despite lengthy attempts by Chevron, which bought Texaco, to block the case, the action ultimately went to trial and resulted in a historic judgment against the oil company.

Donziger’s elation was short as Chevron has an arsenal of ludicrous claims to fire. They claimed that his team ghostwrote what should have been an independent assessment. Instead offered a $500,000 bribe to sway the judges.

Donziger denied any wrongdoing and the Ecuador supreme court later affirmed the original ruling, but Chevron has refused to pay the $9.5bn in damages.

Journalist under House-Arrest

Steven Donziger has been detained at home since August 2019. As the result of a Kafkaesque legal battle stemming from his crusade on behalf of Indigenous Amazonians.

Many of us will have felt the grip of claustrophobic isolation over the past year, but the lawyer Steven Donziger has experienced extreme, very personal confinement. As the pandemic arrived and then raged around him in New York City.

On 28th March 2021, Donziger reached his 600th day of an unprecedented house arrest. that has resulted from a sprawling, Kafkaesque legal battle with the oil giant Chevron. Donziger spearheaded a lengthy crusade against the company. Mainly, on behalf of tens of thousands of Indigenous people in the Amazon rainforest. Specifically, for those whose, homes and health were devastated by oil pollution.

And only to himself become, as he describes it, the victim of a “planned targeting by a corporation to destroy my life”.

The chunky black ankle monitor has deeply impacted his mental health as well as taken a toll on his family.

Chevron wants the narrative to be that he’s a criminal. The implications of that for the entire environmental movement against oil companies are terrifying.

There are moments of relief, such as sticking his head outside to taste a sunny day or talking to his growing legion of outraged supporters. Now, which span the likes of Alec Baldwin, Pink Floyd singer Roger Waters and dozens of Nobel laureates.

Cause of the House-Arrest

The dispute with Chevron centers upon a landmark 2011 decision by the Ecuador courts. According to this dispute, the company is liable to pay $9.5bn in damages to people. Focusing on the people blighted by decades of polluted air and water. To people’s surprise, Chevron has never paid up, claiming “shocking levels of misconduct” and fraud. Especially targeting Donziger and the Ecuadorian judiciary.

But the set of events that led Donziger to be placed in detention. Furthermore, even his law license being taken away, befuddling even to legal scholars.

A US federal judge then concurred with the fraud allegations. Mainly, to negate the possibility of wrenching the money from Chevron in its home country. Mainly, accusing that Donziger conducted a “pattern of racketeering activity” under statutes more commonly used to target mob bosses.

 Fishy Indications

This deception, the unprecedented length of detention for a misdemeanor charge, legal disbarment, and personal financial wipeout has fueled a sense of persecution in Donziger. Kaplan’s conduct, Donziger said, has been an “abomination, unethical and abusive. I never thought this could happen in the US.”
Other lawyers have voiced more measured concerns over Kaplan. Chevron has “captured” the judge, Donziger said, and now the oil company seems omnipresent in his fate.
To conclude, I hope this informative piece made you learn something new. Specifically, made you think of the big oil corporations exploiting indigenous communities. Mainly, by dumping toxic waste in their natural water sources lead to devastating consequences. Be its long-term health effects of the pollution to the fragile Amazon rainforest.
This type of ecological disaster caused by Chevron to the lungs of our planet is another example of the growing arrogance of big oil. Particularly, the fossil fuel industry which escapes every time it engages in nefarious methods to save money at the cost of ruining lives for centuries.

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