Contamination left by Texaco, now Chevron, in the Ecuador rainforest five decades ago continues to harm the environment and jeopardize human health, finds a new report by a leading New Jersey-based environmental engineering firm.
Horrific photos of the contamination, taken by the Louis Berger Group, can be seen here.
The report's most troubling findings are that 1) lethal toxins have migrated from huge oil pits, built by Texaco, to streams people use today for cooking, bathing and washing clothes, 2) pits Texaco claimed to have remediated remain contaminated and 3) more pits exist than previously thought.
The report concludes: "It is our opinion that information developed (in the past), while substantial, just scratches the surface of identifying the environmental condition of the (former Chevron Texaco sites)...."
LBG prepared the report for the Government of Ecuador to defend against a Chevron arbitration claim to avoid paying a $9.5 billion Ecuador judgment against the oil giant for one of the world's largest environmental disasters.
Chevron Chairman and CEO John Watson has refused to pay the $9.5 billion judgment and sold all of the company's assets in Ecuador, forcing the Ecuadorian indigenous groups and villagers suing the company to file lawsuits in Canada and Brazil to seize assets there. The LBG report will be used in enforcement courts to buttress evidence taken during the Ecuador trial of the harmful impacts of Texaco's substandard drilling practices.
In both Ecuador and U.S. courts, Chevron's scientists repeatedly testified that contamination had not migrated away from the pits, and that Texaco remediated some of the pits -- testimony that Chevron knew to be false by at least 2005, when Chevron recorded this video of its technicians laughing at contamination at a well site that Texaco said it cleaned.
Other shocking findings from the LBG report include:
- (Contamination) is not limited to the immediate vicinity of (Texaco-only) facilities .... (it) has migrated to locations where residents, their domestic animals, agricultural activities, or groundwater or surface water resources are present ... support(ing) our opinion that contamination is widespread....
- TexPet's limited ... Remedial Action Plan (RAP) failed to identify or address much of the contamination from (its) past operations and associated risks to human health and the environment .... Some of the sites TexPet supposedly remediated in the 1990s continue today to ... pose a risk to human health and the environment.... (TexPet was a subsidiary of Texaco.)
- We observed evidence of persistent free"phase oil inside and outside the boundaries of TexPet well sites, pits closed prior to the RAP, and undocumented pits.
- ...contamination caused by TexPet's operations is still present and mobile in the environment.... Along the streams adjacent to the sites, ... crude oil bubble(s) upward when sediment was disturbed. We also observed areas where people use these same impacted water resources.
- Field staff reported that one simply had to press one's foot into the soil in certain wetland areas and oil seeped from the ground....
- We observed residents ... in daily contact with contaminated environmental media....
- These findings reinforce our opinion that the (Ecuador) Judgment's assessment of damages was reasonable.
- As (sole operator), TexPet's operations caused past and persistent environmental injury from exposure to toxic and hazardous chemicals and consequent risk to human health and ecological receptors.
- During the (the Ecuador trial) Chevron's (contamination testing was) not representative and thus did not adequately characterize the extent of contamination; notwithstanding this limitation ... Chevron's (and the Ecuadorians') sampling and testing evidenced significant contamination by toxic compounds.
- ...field data show(s) that, where groundwater was found to exist as a resource, it is contaminated; (Chevron's) blanket assumption that impermeable clay occurs everywhere, rendering pit lining unnecessary, is false.
- ...sediment contamination in streams that flow adjacent to (Texaco-only sites) occurs at significant distances ... and at locations where people and animals access the streams....
- Our analyses estimate the mass of residual oil contamination remaining in the soils of the Oriente is large by any calculation basis.