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Oil spills: A Double-Standard World

This is the emblematic story of two oil spills: one in the developed world, the other in the Third World, the BP case in the Golf of Mexico vs. Chevron-Texaco in the Amazon.

stop-the-destruction-of-the-ecuadorian-amazonIn the photo: Aerial view of the amazon

The British Petroleum spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, lasted 6 months and was under one million cubic meters (780,000 to be exact), the spill in the Ecuadorian Amazon lasted 20 years and was over 68 million cubic meters, to which should be added 71 million liters of oil residues. Lets for a moment consider the two spills:

BP under 1 million  vs. Chevron 68 million cubic meters

Those two numbers tell it all. When BP’s Deep Water Horizon spill threatened the US, the world heard about it. When Texaco’s shameless extraction of oil in the Lago Agrio oil field threatened the local population’s health and ended up contaminating over 4 million acres, nobody heard about it.

Yet an extraordinary film was made and shown at the Sundance Festival in 2009. Watch the trailer, it’s an eye-opener:

Everybody rushed to say what a good film this was, including the New York Times. And since then? Silence.

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Related articles : WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE UN SECURITY COUNCIL article by Claude Forthomme

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However the spill had a lasting effect on the Ecuadorian jungle and its inhabitants.  It caused soil pollution and introduced a potent atmospheric pollutant with 18 billion gallons of “produced water” which is considered an industrial waste. It contained poly-aromatic hydrocarbons, at levels many times higher than those allowed in the US.

The water supply in the area is still contaminated today and a 150% spike in cancer cases is reported. As usual, there is some argument about the data, putting in doubt the linkage between cancer and the spill. What these people suffer from is not pollution-induced cancer, it’s the result of “poor sanitation”.  But the rise in the number of sick people is a fact.

Yes, it’s the double standard at work. Who cares about a bunch of Ecuadorian Indians in the Amazon jungle? I do, I’m sure you do too, but Chevron-Texaco doesn’t.

Chevron says they’re not responsible – Chevron is the second largest oil enterprise in the US and the seventh in the world, they have friends in Washington, they know how to move internationally. Still, they can’t pretend they are not implicated. Because they bought out Texaco in 2001, and that means they should mop up all of Texaco’s debts.

Texaco says it has no debts outstanding in Ecuador, it has done all that was necessary to contain environmental damage – whatever damage done is the result of Ecuadorian oil activities (Petroecuador). Not quite so.

In the original agreement Texaco signed with the Ecuadorian oil enterprise back in the 1960s, it had agreed to use the latest clean-up technology (as per article 46 of that agreement) – it never did, and the spill went on non-stop for 20 years.
When, in 2011, the Ecuadorian Supreme Court handed down a $9.6 billion fine to Chevron and asked for public excuses, the corporation refused to either pay up or excuse itself.

When they refused, the fine was doubled and it now stands at some $19 billionreduced now to $9.6Bn – still a pittance compared to the $37 billion BP had to pay for the Gulf of Mexico spill.

In the photo: A Secoya elder stands in front of a banner reading ‘Justice’ during a demonstration at the start of the trial against Chevron in Lago Agrio, Ecuador.

Of course, that’s not the way Chevron sees it. They argue that 95% of the $25 billion in profits from the Ecuadorian oil fields went to the Ecuadorian government.  Moreover, plaintiffs, they say, used illegal means to manipulate evidence, an argument position reinforced in March 2014 by a United States district court finding that the 2011 Ecuadorian verdict was obtained through “coercion, bribery, money laundering and other misconduct.”

Whoever knew that environmentalists and people concerned with public health were such depraved individuals?

Chevron-Texaco didn’t stop there. It also took the State of Ecuador to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague (the Court provides services for the arbitration in disputes between states and commercial entities) and obtained what it wanted: a decision going against the State of Ecuador asking it to cease and desist from executing the sentence emanated by the Ecuadorian Court against Chevron-Texaco.

In the photo: An unlined waste pit filled with crude oil left by Texaco drilling operations years earlier.

Yes, environmentalists are having a tough time these days. The Government of Ecuador has ceded to the siren calls of Big Money: just now, it has issued a permit to drill in one of the last natural reserves in the Amazon, the Yasuni National Park.

Whatever happens next, one thing is certain: the indigenous population, the poor, the emarginated are the hapless victims of industrial exploitation.

A short documentary by Chevron Toxico, a advocacy groups:

Photo Credit: Mitch Anderson, ClearWater.  Romanian-born American film director, producer, writer, researcher and editor. He is the only son of former political dissidents of the Stalinist era

Photo creditLou Dematteis, from Crude Reflections – Lou Dematteis is an American photographer and filmmaker whose work focuses on documenting social, environmental and political conflict and their consequences in the United States and around the world. Note: We highly recommend to check out his work. Just follow the link above.

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