Human rights impacts of oil pollution: Ecuador

Impacts on health, livelihoods, environment

Italicised quotations below are selected abstracts; for full text, click hyperlinked titles.

The oil pollution in Ecuador has been characterised as “one of the largest environmental disasters in history” by Rainforest Action Network, 10 May 2010.  The oil contamination of soil and water sources used by residents for agriculture, fishing, bathing and drinking has allegedly caused a sharp increase in serious illnesses among local people in parts of Sucumbios state in Ecuador.  It has also allegedly displaced residents and left many people without their traditional sources of income.  The allegations are against both Texaco/Chevron and Petroecuador.  Chevron denies these allegations.  A selection of articles and reports focused on health, livelihoods and the environment follows:

Internationally recognised human rights standards related to displacement, deathshealth and livelihood.

Pursuing the polluters”, Los Angeles Times, 20 Apr 2008Caroline Bennett / Rainforest Action Network
In this opinion piece, David Feige, a former public defender, says that “…environmental legacy includes as many as 16 million gallons of spilled crude -- 50% more than the Exxon Valdez dumped in Prince William Sound, Alaska, in 1989; hundreds of toxic waste pits, many containing the chemical-laden byproducts of drilling; and an estimated 18 billion gallons of waste, or "produced", water, which some tests have shown to contain possibly cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons at levels many times higher than those permitted in the U.S.”

Ecuador – Oil Rights or Human Rights?”, Amnesty International USA, 2007
"Our health has been damaged seriously by the contamination caused by Texaco. Many people in our community now have red stains on their skin and others have been vomiting and fainting. Some little children have died because their parents did not know they should not drink the river water." - Affidavit by one of the plaintiffs representing the indigenous Secoya tribe in the lawsuit against Chevron.

Health Impacts”, ChevronToxico website, The Campaign for Justice in Ecuador (Amazon Watch & Frente de defensa de la amazonia)
“The Ecuadorian Amazon is suffering a public health crisis of immense proportions. The root cause of this crisis is water contamination from 40 years of oil operations. The oil infrastructure developed and operated by Texaco had utterly inadequate environmental controls, and consequently Texaco dumped 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater directly into the region's rivers. The contamination of water essential for the daily activities of thousands of people has resulted in an epidemic of cancer, miscarriages, birth defects, and other ailments.”

Environmental Impacts”, ChevronToxico website, The Campaign for Justice in Ecuador (Amazon Watch & Frente de defensa de la amazonia)
“In 1964, Texaco arrived in a pristine rainforest environment. In 1990, Texaco left it a shocking mess, the worst oil-related environmental disaster on the planet. Conditions have only worsened since then. State oil company Petroecuador inherited Texaco's obsolete infrastructure and continued to operate it. Chevron, which purchased Texaco in 2001, continues to draw out legal proceedings that have lasted over 15 years, and refuses to fund an adequate environmental cleanup. From the outset, Texaco deliberately chose to use obsolete technology and substandard environmental controls. Texaco took advantage of limited Ecuadorian government oversight, and abused the trust of Ecuadorian oil officials, who assumed that an American oil major would employ the same state-of-the-art technology in Ecuador that it had developed and used at home.”

Produced Water”, The Campaign for Justice in Ecuador, no date on page
“One of the primary sources of contamination from Texaco's operations is so-called produced water…Texaco dumped 18 billion gallons of this toxic wastewater directly into surface streams and rivers…Produced water…frequently contains petroleum as well as a number of toxic heavy metals…is also salty…and is extremely hot, rendering it harmful to aquatic life. For these reasons, it is standard practice in the oil industry to reinject produced water into underground wells where it cannot contaminate surface streams or groundwater…[I]ts dumping was banned in many US states by the time Texaco operated in Ecuador, including laws in Louisiana in 1942 and Texas in 1967.  Reinjection was already the industry standard by the 1970s.  Texaco, in fact, obtained patents in 1971 and 1974 on state-of-the-art reinjection technology, demonstrating that it was no stranger to the concept.  Yet in Ecuador, the company chose to simply dump toxic water into surface streams to save money. When Texaco began dumping produced water, local people who depend on the rivers for bathing, drinking, and cooking began reporting skin rashes and other ailments. Furthermore, many fish have disappeared from the rivers around the oil concession area. This has contributed to dire poverty among indigenous Ecuadorians who used to depend on fish as a major source of nutrition.”

  • Rain Forest Residents, Texaco Face Off In Ecuador”, Juan Forero, National Public Radio, 30 Apr 2009
    “James Craig, a Chevron spokesman…says the methods Texaco's subsidiary, TexPet, used in Ecuador were common in the United States — and still are. Craig says that includes the use of unlined pits to hold sludge.  ‘To suggest that somehow TexPet was using obsolete technology or substandard methods at the time is a complete falsehood,’ he says.  States such as Texas permit unlined pits, but only for temporary use. In such instances, the waste must be disposed of eventually, often by re-injection back into the ground.”

"Ecuador, Chevron and pollution - Justice or extortion? - The hounding of an American oil company", The Economist, 21 May 2009  
“In a suit first filed in a New York court in 1993, lawyers representing 30,000 people in the Lago Agrio area argued that billions of gallons of waste dumped by Texaco in several hundred pits…caused damage to human health as well as to the jungle. They also argued that the oil company should compensate Indian people for their forced displacement. American judges ruled three times that they had no jurisdiction over the matter.”

  • "Letter to The Economist", Professor Joan Martinez-Alier, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, 23 May 2009
    “Sir, Your report on the Chevron court case in Lago Agrio, Ecuador is unusually biased. You write that Chevron asked the US government to review Ecuador's trade preferences (in response to a court case started by private citizens!), and you fail to mention that some US Senators complained against this, including the then Senator Obama who signed a letter stating that the plaintiffs should have peacefully their day in court. You attack the plaintiffs lawyers because they would collect a substantial part of the damages...and you fail to explain that the main Ecuadorian lawyer is Pablo Fajardo, whose honesty is beyond dispute...You are right in arguing that the state company Petroecuador, is also liable for untold damage to human health and the environment...It is next on line.”

Scientist Recommends Petroecuador Face Pollution Trial”, Gonzalo Solano, Associated Press, 29 Oct 2003
A Spanish scientist, Miguel San Sebastián, working with plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Chevron, says: “[Texaco’s] former partner - state-owned Petroecuador - should also face trial…[A] trial against Petroecuador would deter future pollution since the state-owned company is still using open pits while Texaco no longer operates in Ecuador.  San Sebastian began health studies in the 1990s of people living in polluted areas near [Lago Agrio]…He said his study…found higher cancer rates among people living amid contamination.  Cancer rates for men were 40 percent higher than normal and 60 percent above normal for women…”

"Chevron's Toxic Legacy in Ecuador", Rainforest Action Network, 10 May 2010
“…more than 1,400 people have died of attributed cancers – and continue to die – from their toxic legacy.  Children under 14 have been most vulnerable, suffering high rates of birth defects and leukemia.  Parents cannot adequately feed their families.  Local economies and communities have collapsed.”

Texaco blamed for ruining land & killing people” [10 minute video], Rick Sanchez, CNN, 22 Oct 2009
Rick Sanchez interviews two women: Kerry Kennedy of Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, working with the victims; Silvia Garrigo of Chevron.

Texaco and its Consultants”, International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, Apr 2005
Fifty scientists and doctors from across Latin America, North America and Europe write to the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health “to warn that Chevron's paid experts may mislead about the health impacts of Texaco’s legacy in Ecuador.”

"Geographical Differences in Cancer Incidence in the Amazon Basin of Ecuador in Relation to Residence Near Oil Fields", Anna-Karin Hurtig and Miguel San Sebastián, International Journal of Epidemiology of the International Epidemiological Association, 2002
This paper examines the link between cancer risk and exposure to oil operations in the Ecuadorian Amazon.  Refers to Texaco.

Texaco Toxic Past Haunts Chevron as Judgment Looms”, Michael Smith & Karen Gullo, Bloomberg, 30 Dec 2008
“The ruined land around Cevallos’s home is part of one of the worst environmental and human health disasters in the Amazon basin…And depending on how an Ecuadorean judge rules in a lawsuit over the pollution, it may become the costliest corporate ecological catastrophe in world history.  If the judge follows the recommendation of a court-appointed panel of experts, he could order Chevron Corp., which now owns Texaco, to pay as much as $27 billion in damages…Silvia Garrigo, Chevron’s lead in-house attorney in the case, has made dozens of trips to Ecuador’s Amazon region…She says residents have wrongly accused Texaco of contaminating the environment and that there’s no credible evidence linking diseases to Texaco’s work.  ‘They have been told so many times that it’s Texaco, so everything that goes wrong in their lives, if their cow dies, it’s Texaco,’ Garrigo, 47, says. ‘If their wife has diabetes, it’s Texaco.’  Health problems among residents of the Amazon are linked to poor sanitation and poverty, and residents of the oil region are pawns of activists and greedy attorneys, Garrigo says.  ‘You have people that are very needy,’ she says. ‘They will lie. ‘My baby will have medical care, my son will get a job, if I testify.’”

Amazon Crude - Scott Pelley Reports On A Multi-Billion Dollar Lawsuit Over Oil Drilling Pollution" [video & transcript], 60 Minutes, CBS (USA), 3 May 2009

Ecuador Puts a Price Tag on Untapped Oil”, Daniel Grossman, National Geographic News, 10 Jun 2010
“…billions of gallons of toxic liquids were dumped into unlined pits at hundreds of oil well and processing sites. Who will pay to clean up the polluted land and water, and compensate people harmed by the chemicals, is the subject of a 17-year lawsuit that could be decided later this year. If an Ecuadorian judge follows the recommendation of a court-appointed expert panel, he could order Chevron (which merged with Texaco in 2001) to pay a $27 billion fine, possibly the world’s largest civil penalty. Chevron admits dumping drilling fluids, but it says it practiced methods accepted at the time and that it performed a cleanup overseen by Ecuadorian regulators before transferring operations to its successor, state-owned Petroecuador.”

The Amazon vs. Big Oil: Chevron Faces Possible $27 Billion Dollar Damages Claim”, Sara Miller, Christian Science Monitor, 3 Jun 2009
“The landmark lawsuit, which began in 1993 in New York and is now in an Ecuadorean court in this jungle region, alleges that Texaco, which was acquired by Chevron in 2001, knowingly unleashed toxins across an estimated 1,700 square miles -- roughly the size of Rhode Island.  This allegedly occurred in one of the most biodiverse forests on the planet…Chevron says Texaco cleaned up its share of damage after leaving the country and that the state oil company [Petroecuador], which took over its operations entirely in 1992, has not fulfilled its environmental obligations…Chevron has fought back mightily. The corporation has taken visitors to the sites they have cleaned up and pointed out rivers where fecal matter, not hydrocarbons, they say, has made the local population sick.  It has taken out quarter-page ads in local newspapers with headlines such as ‘the fraud of the century.’ Chevron recently tucked 280,000 supplements into four Ecuadorean papers, highlighting the impact that relocation programs -- instituted by a government desperate for the prosperity oil would bring -- has had on this once pristine region.  ‘We expect the judgment here will be agazinst us,’ says Chevron spokesman Craig. ‘If we don't find justice in Ecuador, we will go abroad.’  Residents here say it is neither revenge nor money that inspires their fight, but a desire for safe water for drinking, cooking, bathing, and washing their clothes. They blame the government just as much as big oil.  They say they have long been abandoned by both. ‘What do I want? I just want them to come here and clean up so we can all move on,’ says Angamarca. ‘So that I know my children will be OK.’"

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