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Chevron-Texaco oil extraction and legal case, Ecuador

Over 60 billion liters of toxic waste and 650,000 barrels of oil spilled in the Amazon forest; the company facing international trial and EJOs advocating for "Leave Oil in the Soil" and for abandoning extractivism


The US based Chevron (formerly Texaco) is responsable for the damages resulted from the extracting activities that have been carried out since 1964 in over 1.5 million hectares in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The company admittedly spilled over 60 billion litres of toxic waste and approximately 650,000 barrels of oil in the area. The reparation, imposed by the Ecuadorean government, was carried out poorly, and resulted in a mere covering up which has had no effect on the damage and its negative effects, which still endure. In the affected areas cancer rates are extraordinarily high, and the indigenous peoples, including the Tetetes and Sansahuari who previously lived in the area are now extinct, while the Cofanes, Sionas and Siekopai risk a similar fate, as they have fled to other regions. Moreover, local farmers were left with infertile land and lost their livestock, which is dying or has died due to the contamination. In 2013 the Supreme Court of the Republic of Ecuador condemned Chevron to pay 9.5 billion dollars of damages, thus recognizing that the company’s activities violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as the Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador – the first in history to recognize the rights to nature. Chevron, however, has refused to pay, claiming that the Ecuador judgment is “illegitimate and unenforceable” despite their previous request to be trialled there. History of the conflict In 1964, the “Junta Militar” that governed Ecuador granted Texaco Petroleum Company a concession of approximately one and a half million hectares in the Ecuadorian Amazon for the exploration and extraction of hydrocarbons. Already in the initial exploration phase, the company perforated up to 350 oil wells that demanded an immense quantity of drilling fluid, a mixture of very toxic products used to lubricate the drill bits. This fluid was stored in over a thousand uncovered holes in the ground with no protection against its filtering. In the production phase, these holes were later used to deposit as well the “produced water” (the water released during the oil production) instead of the proper steel tanks that would have protected the environment, evidently resulting in huge savings for the company. Texaco then constructed a draining system that conducted these waters to the closest river, exposing the whole region to evident damage, a fact admitted by the legal representative of Texaco, who claimed that the company had spilled over 16 billion gallons of this water [1]. The contamination of the ground and water of a region with high biodiversity and plentiful resources affected thousands of people that directly depended on the environment. The human right to food of the population was drastically violated, given their high dependency on these resources. The health risk posed by the toxicity in the environment resulted in a much higher rate of cancer among the inhabitants as well as several kinds of internal and external infections and problems in the respiratory, reproductive and circulatory systems. The relation between the oil activity in the area and the increase of these illnesses has been thoroughly documented. The economic impact should also be taken into account, as the rural population were left with infertile lands and conditions that would very unlikely sustain the life of their animals. In 1992, Texaco abandoned Ecuador. Three years later, Texaco did sign a $40 million remediation agreement with the Government of Ecuador that allegedly cleaned one third of the well sites, but the remedy was poorly executed and basically consisted in only covering them up with ground, more residues, tires, concrete, and in many cases some vegetation. Chevron Corporation and Texaco INC merged in 2001 into Chevron Texaco Corporation, and four years later the company adopted the sole name of Chevron Corporation. Attempts of Access to Justice Litigation processes took place since 1993, when up to 30,000 affected local residents and native communities filed a class-action lawsuit against Texaco in the District Court in New York for damages caused to their health and the environment. After nine years, the US courts finally accepted Chevron argument and rejected the initial lawsuit claiming that it was not the proper jurisdiction for the case. As a result, the affected initiated a new case in the Ecuadorian Amazon town of Lago Agrio. The new lawsuit in Ecuador claimed that Texaco (now Chevron) had knowingly used obsolete, improper and polluting practices in violation of the Ecuadorian law, which specifically demanded the use of “modern and efficient technology” and avoidance of harm to the ecosystem. In 2011 in a landmark judgement the local Sucumbios court sentenced Chevron to pay 9.5 billion USD in reparation measures (which would be doubled if the company did not publicly apologize) for the contaminated ground and water, for the creation of a health program to attend the affected population and for the recovery of fauna, flora and lost culture, to the Frente de Defensa de la Amazonia. The Ecuadorean Supreme Court later confirmed the court decision in 2013. However, Chevron has not complied with the sentence and refuses to pay the fine using all their resources and influence to escape justice. The role of the Architecture of Impunity During the 20 years of legal battle, Chevron has tried to pull all the possible strings to avoid the affected population’s access to justice. Several Wikileaks cables have shown their efforts to bring the American government to pressure for a favorable sentence (2). These cables even show contacts with officials from the Government of Ecuador offering to implement social projects to guarantee support in bringing down the case (3). Other leaks include internal videos from Chevron that show scientists hired by the company trying (unsuccessfully) to find non-contaminated soil days prior to the judge’s visit to the affected areas (4). Ever since the sentence was heard, Chevron has used all its resources to discredit the legal team of the affected populations as well as the Ecuadorian State and its judicial system. For instance, they started a legal (non-jury) proceeding in a New York court that accused the American lawyer representing the Ecuadorian communities, Steven Donziger, of alleged bribery and other corrupt misconduct during the trial. The company precisely appealed to the RICO (Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations) law to prevent the judgment’s enforcement in the United States. Chevron’s main allegation was that plaintiffs’ lawyers colluded with Ecuadorian officials to obtain a judgment against the corporation and that they even ghostwrote the text of the final ruling. On March 7, 2011, Judge Kaplan issued a preliminary injunction banning the execution of any Ecuadorean court judgment in any country outside Ecuador. The decision was struck down by the U.S. Second Circuit on September 19, 2011, which annulled Kaplan’s decision ruling that the RICO law was not meant to make its courts act “as transnational arbiters” (Court opinion of January 26, 2012). Moreover, the fraud allegations were mainly based on the deposition of Chevron’s “star-witness”, Mr. Alberto Guerra, a former Ecuadorean judge who first heard the Aguinda case. After having left this institutional position, he was contracted by Chevron to testify on its behalf, describing inexistent collusive dealings with the Ecuadorean plaintiffs before U.S.courts. However, Guerra’s testimony was contradicted by his own outstanding affirmations before the International Arbitration Panel in Washington DC during the Phase II of the Arbitrationbetween Chevron Corp. and Texaco petroleum Co. and the Republic of Ecuador (PCA CaseNo.2009-23, April 21- May 8, 2015), initiated in 2009 by the company. Indeed, simultaneously,the transnational has requested international arbitration against the State of Ecuador, utilizing theBilateral Treaty for the Protection of Investors between Ecuador and the United States. The BIT, however, was signed in 1997, years after Texaco left the country and thus committed its wrong doings. Despite suspicious links between some of the arbitrators and Chevron (and considering this arbitration mechanism has been known to be favorable to corporations) (6), the latest decision surprisingly rejected Chevron’s argument, as it ruled that the claims of private citizens were valid under Ecuadorian law and that they were not covered by the settlement (7). Actually, the arbitral panel cannot affect in any way the Aguinda ruling, because it has no jurisdiction over the Aguinda plaintiffs. In addition, the evidence presented by the Republic of Ecuador during the Arbitration demonstrates once again that the company’s claims of fraud are completely unfounded. Indeed, the findings contained in the Supplemental Expert Report of J. C. Racich, released on November 7, 2014, for the Republic of Ecuador, contradicted those provided by Chevron (the Lynch’s Zambrano Report of 2014), therefore undermining claimants’ conclusions. The affected communities continue to use legal strategies to access justice. Apart from the already mentioned, the campaigns are also suing the company in Argentina, Brazil and Canada, where the company still has assets and could thus guarantee a payment. With regards to the enforcement abroad strategy, it must be mentioned the crucial judgments plaintiffs obtained on September 4, 2015, released by the Supreme Court of Canada at last instance in the Chevron Corp. v. Yaiguaje case. The Court unanimously recognized the Canadian jurisdiction over the judgment enforcement claim made by plaintiffs, confirming a second instance’s decision. These two last decisions contradicted the Canadian trial judge’s ruling, who previously pointed to Chevron Corporation’s claimed lack of assets in the country. Instead, the Court of Appeal in Ontario at second instance recognized the due assistance that courts worldwide shall grant to the victims. For its part, the Canadian Supreme Court’s ruling addresses two main issues: firstly, whether and under what conditions it has jurisdiction to decide on the recognition and enforcement of the Ecuadorean judgment; secondly, the court analyzes the existence of jurisdiction over the subsidiary, Chevron Canada. The answer of the Court is affirmative on the two fronts. Even if the Court’s verdict is only a step in the process of wining plaintiffs’ claim for compensation in Canada, the decision settled an important precedent not only for the Ecuadorian victims but also for other affected people fighting Chevron around the world.   What Justice could do: a say from the PPT  In a hearing that was held in Geneva in June 2014, the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) listened to the testimony of Pablo Fajardo and Oscar Herrera, from Unión de Afectados por Chevron-Texaco - UDAPT. Considering the evidence brought before the judges by these witnesses, the Tribunal recognized the actions of the transnational corporation as another example of violations of human and people rights. In line with its full judgement of Madrid, in May 2010, and just a few months before the session that was held in Mexico in December 2014, the PPT underlined once again how transnational corporations, including Chevron, systematically violate human and peoples’ rights to their own profit. In the same line, the PPT recognized in this widespread practice the current shortcoming of international law, namely the impossibility of accessing justice and obtaining a remedy that is increasingly becoming an unbearable burden for affected communities, as well as for the laws that are supposed to give them shelter. In the same spirit, the PPT acknowledged the necessity to improve international legislation, including through a binding treaty on transnational corporations, and a Peoples’ treaty, in order to hold transnational corporations accountable for their actions. Since several years hundreds of movements, NGO’s and affected communities are fighting to dismantle corporate power and proposed a binding treaty for transnational corporations and human rights. On June 2014, the UDAPT participated in a written presentation of Ecuadorian Chevron case before the UN Human Rights Council among several other cases. At this session, on the initiative of Ecuador and South Africa, the UN Human Rights Council voted a resolution for the elaboration of an international legally binding instrument on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with respect to human rights. In July 2015 the UN „Intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights“ had its first session where several NGO’s could contribute with their testimonies. Many of them are part of the campaign „Stop Corporate Impunity“ in which the Ecuadorian Chevron case has become an emblematic example to demand the in force corporate accountability. Different measures on international level could be examined to enforce sentences that can not be executed on national level for different reasons, such as economic and political interests. One of them is to change the Statue of Rome in order to include environmental crimes as crimes against humanity. October 2015, the UDAPT made a complaint against the Chevron CEO before the International Criminal Court in this perspective. Since then other movements such as the End Ecocide platform plead for a change of the Statute of Rome in order to include Ecocide as a crime against humanity. Other organizations and personalities work to promote the creation of an International Court of Environmental justice.

Basic Data
Name of conflict:Chevron-Texaco oil extraction and legal case, Ecuador
State or province:Ecuadorian Amazon
Location of conflict:Provinces of Orellana, Sucumbios
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Texaco extracted up to 1.5 billion barrels of oil. The contamination of of the Amazon forest left millions of gallons of oil in the soil, 20 million cubic meters of polluted gas into the air and hundreds of contaminated water pools and open air waste pits left abandoned without any covering or cleaning.

Project area:98,540,000
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:1993
Company names or state enterprises:Texaco Petroleum Co. from United States of America
Petroecuador from Ecuador
Chevron Corporation from United States of America
Chevron Polska Energy Resources Sp. z o.o. from United States of America
Relevant government actors:Government of Ecuador, Government of USA
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Accion Ecologica - Ecuador, Amazon Watch - USA, Amnesty International, Oxfam America, UNICEF, EDF - USA, Amazon Defense Coalition (FDA) Ecuador, Assembly of people affected by the Texaco case - Ecuador, Rainforest Action Network, Centro Ecuatoriano de Derecho Ambiental, Frente de Defensa de la Amazonia - Amazon Defense Coalition, Global Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power, Permanent Peoples Tribunal
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Oil spills, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Global warming, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Deaths, Other Health impacts
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Other Health impactsEpidemic of cancer, miscarriages, birth defects, and other ailments
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Displacement
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Negotiated alternative solution
Withdrawal of company/investment
Proposal and development of alternatives:Remediation of the soils; social and cultural reparation for indigenous peoples; restoration of ecosystems; provision of clean water to the affected communities; establishment of a health system and health programs
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Although the case has been filed in favor of the indigenous communities, and the fine has been set, the environmental damages are too high and many people have been affected deeply by the harm of their territory. There can be no real compensation for the damages caused. Despite this, the case is an example of how justice in the judicial sense against a company can be achieved. What remains to be seen is if Chevron will ever pay a cent of the fine.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Ecuadors legislation on Water and Health from the 1960s

Universal Declaration of Human Rights
[click to view]

The trial in the Supreme Court of Canada/ el juicio en la Corte suprema de Canada
[click to view]

The sentence in Canada / la sentencia en Canada
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Open letter from Dr. Rodrigo Pérez Pallares, representative of Texaco Petroleum Company, to the Director of Vistazo, on March 5, 2007, published in El Comercio on March 16, 2007, pag. 6 of Cuaderno 1.

Infographic of Chevron's Arquitecture of Impunity
[click to view]

CETIM - Human rights and access to justice /Derechos humanos y aceso a la justicia
[click to view]

Fontaine G., Más allá del caso Texaco ¿Se puede rescatar al Nororiente ecuatoriano?, Revista ICONOS, 2003.

UN-Resolution TNC's and Human rights/ Resolución de las Naciones Unidas sobre las trans ancionales y los derechos humanos
[click to view]

Procuraduría General del Estado - Chevron's Case: Ecuador Defense
[click to view]

Maldonado A., Pueblos Indígenas y petroleras. Tres Miradas, Clínica Ambiental, Quito, 2013.

Ecuador’s Experience with International Investment Arbitration

By Andres Arauz G., Minister of Knowledge and Human Talent, Republic of Ecuador
[click to view]

Ejolt report "Towards a Post-Oil Civilization. Yasunization and other initiatives to leave fossil fuels in the soil"
[click to view]

CETIM - Chevron’s activities impair freedom of expression of victims, academics, students and activists
[click to view]

Beristain C. et al, Las palabras de la Selva. Estudio psicosocial del impacto de las explotaciones petroleras de Texaco en las comunidades amazónicas de Ecuador, HEGOA, Bilbao, 2009.

[2] (2006, Mar. 21). Cable 06QUITO705: Chevron close to filing bit notice. Released by Wikileaks
[click to view]

[3] (2008, Jul. 4). Cable 08QUITO323: Chevron disputes report by Ecuadorian environmental expert. Released by Wikileaks.
[click to view]

[4] Eshelman, R.S. (2015, Apr. 15). The Chevron Tapes: Video Shows Oil Giant Allegedly Covering Up Amazon Contamination. Vice News.
[click to view]

[5] Hong, N. (2015, Apr. 19). Chevron, Donziger to Face Off Over $9.5 Billion Judgment. The Wall Street Journal [digital edition].
[click to view]

[6] Hinton, K. (2012, Feb. 23). Chevron's Arbitrator Suffers from Acute Ethical Problems, Ecuadorians Assert. Amazon Defense Coalition.
[click to view]

[click to view]

Texaco/Chevron lawsuits
[click to view]

Business and Human Rights - Human rights impacts of oil pollution: Ecuador
[click to view]

Testimony of the case in the Permanent Peoples Tribunal Hearing - Corporate Human Rights Violations and Peoples Access to Justice. Geneva, 23 June 2014
[click to view]

The most irresponsible company of the world / La compania la más irresponsable del mundo
[click to view]

CETIM - Chevron taken to the International Criminal Court for its crimes in Ecuador
[click to view]

Complaint against the CEO of Chevron at the International Criminal Court / Denuncia encontra el CEO de Chevron en la Corte penal internacional
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Film di Pocho Alvarez - Toxico Texaco Toxico(parte 3)
[click to view]

Film di Arturo Hortas - Sucumbios Tierra Sin Mal
[click to view]

Film di Pocho Alvarez - Toxico Texaco Toxico

(parte 1)
[click to view]

Film di Pocho Alvarez - Toxico Texaco Toxico (parte 2)
[click to view]

Other comments:See more at:
Meta information
Contributor:Global Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power, Transnational Institute - TNI, Unión de Afectados por las Operaciones de Texaco en Ecuador - UDAPT
Last update15/03/2018
Conflict ID:2000
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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