The Amazon Pink Dolphin’s Voice: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Confirmed Chevron’s Ecuador pollution in powerful essay by Judith Kimerling

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Confirmed Chevron’s Ecuador Pollution in Powerful Essay, says Amazon Defense Coalition

NEW YORK, May 7, 2012 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ — Saw Scenes That Looked Like “War” During Trip to Remote Region of Amazon in Early 1990s

In 1990, noted environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was one of the first outsiders to travel to a remote area of Ecuador’s Amazon to assess what at the time was considered one of the worst oil disasters on the planet — one created deliberately by Chevron that is now the subject of an $18 billion judgment against the oil giant.

Writing a powerful and compelling introduction for the long-forgotten 1991 book Amazon Crude, Kennedy said the environmental destruction he saw in Ecuador was “reminiscent of war.” He blasted Texaco, now owned by Chevron, for “not bringing American values” to the South American nation when it built hundreds of wells and production stations across an area of rainforest the size of Rhode Island.

Kennedy’s essay largely confirmed the horror experienced by indigenous groups in the area that resulted in the landmark $18 billion judgment against Chevron, thought to be the largest civil liability ever stemming from a trial. That judgment has become a major point of contention for numerous Chevron shareholders, has raised numerous questions about whether the oil giant is misleading investors and has prompted calls for a SEC investigation to determine if the company is complying with its disclosure obligations.

Amazon Crude was published in 1991 by the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the leading environmental groups in the United States. It was authored by Judith Kimerling, a former environmental lawyer with the New York Attorney General’s office and now a law professor.

The book, now out of print, meticulously documented Chevron’s sub-standard operational practices in Ecuador.

In the early 1990s — well before the celebrated legal battle between indigenous groups and Chevron made global headlines in news outlets — Kennedy wrote in reference to Chevron’s operations that “nothing in my experience prepared me for the scenes I saw in the Ecuadorian Amazon…. Like most U.S. citizens, I like to believe that when American companies go abroad, American values go with them. That hasn’t happened in Ecuador.”

Kennedy said he witnessed “antiquated equipment, rusting pipelines, and uncounted toxic waste sites.” In reference to the hundreds of open-air toxic waste pits left by Chevron and other oil companies in Ecuador, he said the jungle “was broken by landscapes reminiscent of war.”

Kennedy wrote: “Past the petroleum camp, a large river, recently burned, still ran black, its banks charred… Oil wastes streamed from the broken berm of a nearby production pit.”

After meeting with several members of indigenous groups, Kennedy said that “each of them told the same story. Sick and deformed children, adults and children affected with skin rashes, headaches, dysentery and respiratory ailments, cattle dead with their stomachs rotted out, crops destroyed, animals gone from the forest and fish from the rivers and streams.”

Kennedy was well aware that what Chevron executives were doing in Ecuador would never be allowed where he lived. “They’d go to jail for that in New York,” he wrote.

He continued: “For almost twenty years, American oil companies, led by Texaco (now Chevron), have pumped oil from the Ecuadorian jungle. They have created an infrastructure that includes over 400 drill sites, hundreds of miles of roads and pipelines, and a primary pipeline that stretches 280 miles across the Andes….

“The industry’s practice [in Ecuador] of burying highly toxic drilling muds virtually assures the destruction of … groundwater aquifers, while the region’s surface water is being destroyed by pipeline spills and … pit discharges. By far the most disturbing impacts are to the quarter million forest people, including members of eight indigenous tribes who rely on the natural resources … for their survival….”

Kennedy noted that when oil exploration began in Ecuador’s Amazon most observers thought the “real threat” would be the “speculators and colonists following oil company roads to occupy tribal lands,” but Kimerling’s book made it clear Chevron’s practices have been ‘the greater threat.”

In closing, he wrote, “I reflected that the only way the Amazon will be saved is if the people who live there choose to save it.”

Not long after — in 1993 — indigenous groups and farmer communities in the area filed the class-action lawsuit against Chevron in New York, which resulted in the judgment. The trial took place in Ecuador at Chevron’s request after the company repeatedly praised the country’s court system, although now Chevron claims those courts were biased against it.

The Ecuador court found that Chevron discharged billions of gallons of toxic “water of formation” directly into the waterways used by the local inhabitants for drinking water and caused an outbreak of cancer and other oil-related diseases. See here and here. The judgment is far less than BP’s total liability for the comparatively smaller Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The court also found that Chevron built and abandoned more than 900 unlined waste pits that continue to leech toxins into the soils and waterways of the region. The company’s operational practices in Ecuador violated industry standards and had been outlawed in most U.S. states in the 1930s and 1940s, according to evidence before the Ecuador court.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Judith Kimerling: United States, 2007
Judith Kimerling

Judith Kimerling is an Associate Professor of Law and Political Science at The City University of New York, with a joint appointment at CUNY Law School and Queens College. After graduating from University of Michigan and Yale Law School, she worked for seven years as an environmental litigator, including five years as an Assistant Attorney General for New York State, where she worked on the Love Canal litigation and other hazardous waste cleanup litigation and negotiations.

In 1989, Kimerling moved to Ecuador, where she learned that oil exploration and production was the primary engine of rainforest destruction in the Amazon region of Ecuador. She also learned how oil development had violently disrupted the lives of many communities. Spills from the main pipeline alone dumped more than 19 million gallons of crude oil into the environment, nearly twice as much as the Exxon Valdez; millions of gallons of toxic wastes were discharged every day, without treatment or monitoring; natural gas was burned as a ‘waste’; and colonization along roads built by Texaco and other oil companies was the leading cause of deforestation in the region. This environmental degradation was creating poverty among forest peoples by reducing their territories and damaging natural resources that provided people with secure, self-reliant and sustainable sources of food, water, medicine and shelter. Kimerling immediately began working with indigenous organizations and communities to document the environmental and social impacts of oil development in their territories, and to help them assert their rights and protect remaining forests from destructive development. Her findings and photographs were later published in her book, Amazon Crude, which has been called “the Silent Spring of Ecuador” by The New York Times.

Through Kimerling’s pioneering and courageous work, the impact of oil extraction on indigenous peoples and tropical forests entered the international environmental and human rights agendas for the first time. In 1993, Kimerling’s book prompted U.S.-based lawyers to file a class-action lawsuit against Texaco in federal court in New York, on behalf of the indigenous communities and settlers in the affected areas of the Ecuadorian Amazon.  Two years later, the Ecuadorian government negotiated an agreement with Texaco behind closed doors that purported to remedy the company’s environmental legacy. However, the agreement favored Texaco and did not require a serious cleanup, andin 1998, the government and national oil company relinquished all further claims against the company. In 2002, the court in New York ruled that the private lawsuit against Texaco had “nothing to do with the United States,” and dismissed the case in favor of litigation in Ecuador without giving the plaintiffs a day in court. The plaintiffs’ lawyers filed a new lawsuit against ChevronTexaco in Ecuador, but the outcome of the case remains uncertain. (Texaco is now part of Chevron Corp.)

Despite these legal setbacks, Kimerling remains committed to the indigenous communities’ persistent efforts to assert their rights and remedy environmental, social and cultural injuries caused by Texaco’s operations in Ecuador.  She writes and lectures extensively in English and Spanish, in addition to carrying out legal literacy and community education activities in indigenous communities in the Amazon. Shehas served as an advisor to a number of indigenous organizations, and is currently the international representative ofMakarik Ñihua, an alliance of 28 Huaorani and Lower Napo Kichwa communities who came together in wake of the dismissal of the New York lawsuit to speak for themselves and become protagonists in the struggle to vindicate their rights. In a recent development, she is helping communities who are beginning to undertake remedial measures themselves, after waiting so long for others to act.

In one remedial initiative, Professor Kimerling is working with a group of Huaorani communities to protect a 758,051-heactare area of rainforest (nearly the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined) known as the “Intangible Zone.” Before Texaco discovered oil in the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador, most Huaorani did not have contact with outsiders. Texaco collaborated with Ecuador and U.S.-based missionaries to pressure and trick Huaorani clans into leaving areas where the company wanted to work, pacify the tribe, and exterminate their culture and way of life. The Intangible Zone is home to the last known group of uncontacted Huaorani, the Tagaeri-Taromenane, as well as three communities of contacted Huaorani, and has been designated by the government as a conservation area, off-limits to oil extraction, mining and logging. The Tagaeri-Taromenane are the last known group of people still living in voluntary isolation in the Ecuadorian Amazon, but are threatened by encroaching oil development and violent encounters with illegal loggers who use the road that Texaco build after the Huaorani were dislocated, to enter and remove wood from the area. The initiative is led by contacted Huaorani in the Intangible Zone who are working to defend their culture and rainforest environment, which go hand-in-hand. The communities came together, with Kimerling’s support, to put an end to the logging in the Intangible Zone, defend Huaorani land rights and the right of their uncontacted neighbors to live in voluntary isolation, and support community-based alternatives to logging and oil extraction, including tourism and sales of sustainable products.In the United States, Professor Kimerling serves on the Technical Advisory Committee of REDOIL, a network of Alaska Natives who joined forces to address the human and ecological impacts of the fossil fuel industry in Alaska, and promote sustainable development She has consulted for many organizations, including Amnesty International, Burma Lawyers Council, The Field Museum, The Polisario Front, United Nations Centre on Transnational Corporations, and Women’s Environment and Development Organization. In addition, Professor Kimerling has been a Visiting Scholar at Yale Law School, and received a Special Achievement Award from Rainforest Action Network and a Feliks Gross Endowment Award for Outstanding Scholarly Achievement from the CUNY Academy for Humanities and Sciences.

The Field Museum is honored to present Ms. Kimerling with the 2007 Parker-Gentry Award to acknowledge her courageous and relentless accomplishments on behalf of indigenous peoples, riverine communities, and vast, intact forests in the headwaters of the Amazon. Her work to establish independent verification of transnational corporations’ claims of best practice is also noteworthy, and is fundamental in a world that is increasingly dominated by oil concessions.

Source: Parker Gentry

National media covering toxic oil and gas waste in….Ecuador

Amy Mall

Posted May 4, 2009

Both National Public Radio and CBS’s 60 Minutes recently reported on a lawsuit in Ecuador where rural citizens are suing Chevron for polluting their environment. One of Chevron’s claims is that the methods used in Ecuador — including unlined, open air waste pits — are legal in the United States and, by implication, just fine for human health and the environment. Just because unlined, open air toxic waste pits are permitted in the U.S. doesn’t mean they are safe for human health or the environment. These pits can contaminate air, groundwater, surface water, or soil, and present hazards to humans, wildlife, and livestock. Research found increased cancer risks associated with living in the communities in Ecuador where these activities took place.

Most oil and gas waste in the U.S.–regardless of how toxic it may be–is exempt from federal hazardous waste regulations. That has left regulation of these materials up to the states, and they all handle it differently. Sometimes the waste is dumped near waterways or in backyards. A recent report from the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law reviewed different state regulations for oil and gas production. Among the report’s findings are that some states have stricter standards than the practices in Ecuador: some states specify minimum distance requirements from pits to important values such as natural resources, schools, and hospitals; and some states require pits to be lined and set standards for liner integrity. Wyoming mandates that so-called “pitless” drilling systems be used in areas where groundwater is less than 20 feet below the surface. While some of our waste management standards in the U.S. are stricter than Ecuador, we have a long way to go before we can provide an appropriate model for other countries.

Pitless drilling, also known as ‘closed-loop’ drilling, uses storage tanks instead of open air pits. Already in use by many companies, comparisons have found these systems to be cost-effective and even profitable. They maximize the ability to reuse and recycle drilling fluids, there is no need to pay for pit construction, and truck traffic and water use can be reduced. Pitless drilling should be used in more places, especially near any sensitive resources or in communities. Other oil and gas waste management solutions include reducing the use of toxic materials in the first place, and finding less toxic alternatives.

Source: NRDC

SELVA Vida Sin Fronteras acknowledges Kevin Schafer’s important contribution towards protecting the highly endangered Amazon pink fresh water dolphin. Title photographs of our “The Amazon Pink Dolphin’s Voice” were taken by Mr. Schafer. 



~ by FSVSF Admin on 14 May, 2012.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: