Texaco has admitted pumping 18 billion gallons of oil and formation water into the streams and waterways of the Amazon basin, instead of re-injecting the toxic sludge back where it came from, way underground – the standard practice for the oil industry then and now.
During the 22 years that Texaco drilled for oil in Ecuador, the oil company saved at least $8 billion in expenses by treating the rainforest like its own personal trash heap with an average daily dump of 2.2 million gallons of oil and formation water, with high concentrations of benzene, a known carcinogen, and other hazardous chemicals and minerals.
As the people of the Gulf Coast in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama know all too well, that much oil and toxic water damages not only the physical environment but also a complete way of life. Families have lost loved ones to the explosion; fisherman and shrimp boaters may have to find another way to make a living; tourists will worry about the safety of the beaches and swimming areas, and scientists will study the area to see how the spill impacts ocean and human life for decades to come.
With no support from their government, the indigenous tribes of the Ecuadorian rainforest faced a much harsher reality when they filed their lawsuit against Texaco in 1993, a year after the oil company left Ecuador. They had been helpless to stop Texaco from wrecking havoc in their homeland. The government never sent in the Navy. The President of Ecuador at that time didn’t demand that Texaco take responsibility and clean up the mess. There were laws against such pollution, but no one enforced them because no one cared.
In 2001 Texaco’s problem became Chevron’s problem with Chevron’s purchase of Texaco. Nothing changed, though. Today the contamination remains, stored in unlined oil pits that continue to leech into the soil and underground water supply. Hopefully a similar fate will not befall the Gulf Coast. Hopefully BP will do the right thing, unlike Chevron, which is using every legal maneuver it can to avoid responsibility for the 18 billion gallons of toxic waste in the rainforest.
As President Obama just did on the Gulf Coast, President Correa visited the contaminated area and expressed his concern for the people who are living near and sometimes on top of toxic pits. Unlike BP, however, Chevron is using the President’s visit to argue in US court that the government is interfering with the lawsuit; that the court system is corrupt, and everyone who has drilled for oil in Ecuador is responsible for the contamination, except, of course, Chevron.
BP may end up scapegoating, too. But right now BP executives look a whole better than Chevron’s who haven’t even bothered to visit Ecuador to see the contamination, conveniently thousands of miles away from its San Ramon, California headquarters.