Texaco started working in Ecuador in 1964 and began full-scale production of oil in 1972. For the next 20 years in Ecuador, Texaco failed to employ the same drilling standards it used in the U.S. to protect human lives and the environment. Texaco saved money by simply dumping its waste into large unlined pits in the South American country.
There was no law in Ecuador specifically addressing the procedure for dealing with this toxic wastewater when Texaco entered the country. However, in 1971 a Hydrocarbons Law was passed and it, along with the contract Texaco signed with Ecuador, called for the protection of the environment. Texaco chose to ignore these regulations and they were rarely enforced. The health of the Indigenous people, farmers and their environment paid a horrific price as a result of Texaco’s substandard practices — and the price continues to be paid today.
Since the pits were unlined, this waste would easily seep into the soil and water. Rains also caused these uncovered pits to overflow, further spreading the waste. In addition, pipes drained the wastewater into nearby rivers and streams. Texaco admitted that it dumped — or its pipelines spilled — almost 16 billion gallons of oily waste. This total was far larger than the combined amount spilled from the Exxon Valdez in Alaskan waters in 1989 and by the explosion and sinking of the BP drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
After severely contaminating the formerly pristine rainforest area where Texaco drilled for 20 years through air, water and ground pollution, in 1992 the company left Ecuador. In 1993 a class-action lawsuit against Texaco was filed in New York on behalf of 30,000 Indigenous people and farmers. One of the attorneys participating in the suit against Texaco was Steven Donzinger, who later played a leading role in the class-action case.
In 2001 Chevron bought Texaco and was responsible for all its liabilities. Regarding Ecuador, Chevron made a problematic claim that Texaco had already cleaned up the area where it had operated.
Eventually the class-action trial was moved to Ecuador at Chevron’s request because the courts there were “impartial and fair.” Ecuadorian trials also didn’t involve juries. In 2011, the court in Ecuador ruled against Chevron and ordered it to pay $18 billion in compensation, later reduced to $9.5 billion. After the verdict was upheld by the Ecuadorian Supreme Court, Chevron said it wouldn’t pay and moved all its assets out of Ecuador.
It appears as if Chevron, besides trying to avoid paying for environmental crimes, is using the legal system to send a message to environmental justice activists and their attorneys. Chevron filed a retaliatory suit against Donzinger and other team members claiming that they had paid bribes to get the verdict. However Chevron’s star witness later admitted he lied under oath.
Despite lack of evidence, Chevron’s efforts have allowed a single judge, Lewis Kaplan, to keep Donzinger under house arrest for over 600 days for a highly questionable misdemeanor contempt of court ruling. Donzinger was also subsequently disbarred.
On April 2, a judicial complaint was filed by 200 individual lawyers and groups representing over 500,000 lawyers around the world against Judge Kaplan alleging his shocking violations of the judicial code of conduct.
The saga continues. Will justice be served?