You Shouldn't Trust Your Car to the Men Who Wore the Star
If you're the sort of person who stopped filling up at BP stations after the Gulf Horizon disaster, here's hoping you're not shopping for gasoline at Chevron, owner of Texaco, instead. The companies' behavior in Ecuador over the last 37 years, and in the nearly 20-year lawsuit brought against Texaco (purchased by Chevron in 2001) by victims of its epic despoiling of the area, is right up there with the worst in the oil industry's oversubscribed Hall of Shame. In fact, it may even make BP look good.
Now you may have missed the latest wrinkles in the Chevron-Texaco case -- Donald Trump's run for the presidency was brewing as they came down -- so, perhaps, like the American media, you were distracted. Or maybe you are resigned to expecting appalling behavior from oil companies. But the record reveals that Texaco and Chevron have outdone themselves even by the low standards of their industry.
Because Tom and Ray have a limited attention span, a short summary will have to suffice: Texaco moved into a remote, 2,000-square-mile region of the northern Ecuadoran rainforest to drill for oil in 1964. Not even bothering to employ the industry's substandard "best practices" for stewardship of the land, the company trashed the place but good, digging nearly 1,000 unlined pits into which it would pour for permanent storage (by 1990) over 18 billion gallons of inadequately treated, carcinogenic, toxic waste, such as benzene.
It flared hundreds of millions of cubic meters of natural gas and spilled over 17 million gallons of raw petroleum from leaking tanks and pipes, cumulatively loosing into the Amazon rainforest over 80 times the amount of raw toxins that BP puked into the poor Gulf of Mexico. With environmental damage whose clean up cost was estimated by an internal Texaco audit in 1992 in excess of $8.4 billion, the company had decimated an unspoiled land, along with five different, indigenous peoples and their livelihoods. Extraordinary cancer, childhood leukemia and mortality figures were inevitably part of the legacy. Even though Texaco quit Ecuador in 1992, the toxic materials continue to leach into soil and drinking water and will for decades to come.
On behalf of 30,000 of its victims, Texaco was sued in New York in 1993 (Âguinda v. Texaco). The company proceeded to spend years fighting to have the case removed from U.S. jurisdiction, and finally succeeded nine years on when the case was transferred to Ecuador, whose famously pliant judiciary's judgment the oil company agreed at the time to abide by. But nine more years later -- 18 years after the original suit was brought -- much to Chevron's disgruntled amazement, in February of this year, the Ecuadoran court found it guilty guilty guilty, not only of causing more than $8 billion of damage to the rainforest, but of serial corrupt practices during the trial, including: fraudulent "remediation" of polluted lands, attempting to set up the judge and bribe international journalists, as well as sundry other dirty tricks and obstructions of justice, all of which led the court to levy additional punitive damages for a total judgment against it of $18 billion, unless Chevron issued an apology. It didn't. Instead, it appealed the Ecuadoran judgment in Ecuador. (So, too, did the plaintiffs, who said the judgment in their favor left out several categories of damages, which the evidence would tend to support.)
Meanwhile, Chevron -- which assumed all of Texaco's liabilities when it bought the company -- had already gone on the offensive in the United States, just in case. With one 2009 supplemental damages report prepared for the court by American experts finding that the pollution was likely to cause 10,000 deaths over time and that the actual remediation cost of the mess Texaco made was more likely $118 billion, Chevron had been motivated to take extreme measures. Hiring a "transnational" litigation team with experience discrediting and wearing down poor, foreign plaintiffs in egregious environmental suits, it launched a blizzard of aggressive counter-suits in the United States in 2009 and 2010, with more than 30 actions seeking costly discovery filed in 16 federal jurisdictions, each intended to make the prosecution of the case against them time-consuming and unbearably expensive. Among its targets, the filmmaker, Emmy-Award-winner, Joseph Berliner, whose documentary film "Crude" followed the case against Chevron. In a move assailed by the likes of The Wall Street Journal and The Associated Press, as well as more traditionally liberal organizations, the oil company persuaded a New York judge to compel the production of 600 outtakes from the film.
Then, using edited and out-of-context outtakes from Berliner's film as its evidence, two weeks before the judgment against it, Chevron filed a RICO suit against each of the Ecuadoran plaintiffs individually and their American-born, Harvard-educated lawyer of 17 years, Steven Donziger, alleging that the case had been a fraud from the beginning. Refusing to honor the judgment of the forum it had once demanded, Chevron/Texaco asked a federal judge in New York to issue an order that any judgment the Ecuadoran court might issue would be unrecognizable and unenforceable anywhere in the world and asking that an injunction be issued so that the Ecuadoran plaintiffs would be barred from attempting to have any judgment enforced ANYWHERE in the world.
A New York judge, Lewis A. Kaplan, mysteriously granted almost everything Chevron/Texaco asked for, while denying the Ecuadorans the right to present evidence, and barring Donziger, their lawyer of 18 years, the right to participate in the trial. A U.S. court of appeals has since overruled Kaplan's novel preliminary injunction. So the case goes on.
Chevron -- which didn't just have its day in court but more than 6,500 days in court, so far -- is back to papering plaintiffs to death, with endless discovery requests hurled at Donziger, as well as former interns, associates and lawyers on the case. The Court of Appeals will hear the case the week of September 12.
Mark it on your calendar. But whatever happens, you may want to stay out of Chevron stations for some time to come.