Precursor: This is a brief, very brief write up of what has happened in the Amazonian Region of Ecuador to get a basic understanding of the situation. I covered what I thought was necessary and prevalent to the case itself as well as the events that led up to what has come to be one of the worst environmental disasters to take place in modern history. What happened here is wrong, regardless of who is at fault.
It has been a well known fact that multibillion dollar energy companies, Chevron and Texaco (companies merged in 2001, Chevron sold Texaco in 2005) have been dealing with the ongoing legal battle regarding the damages done to the Amazonian Environment and it must raise a question within everyone’s minds: What exactly happened?
It all started back in 1964 when Ecuador seemed to be resting on top of a buried treasure and nearly every company within the energy business was on the hunt: massive oil fields. Texaco struck gold, liquid gold. The area of the discovery is known as the Oriente and lies in the northern, remote area of the Ecuadorian Amazon in which mostly only native tribes reside. These tribes were known to be cut off from the modern world and lived a traditional lifestyle, living off the land as one might say. It is safe to say that these native tribes had no idea what was happening to their sacred, life bringing land as Texaco’s oil farmers started setting up shop in the newly found town of Lago Agrio, or “Sour Lake”, which is the name of the town in which Texaco was founded. Texaco began transporting massive shipments of oil out of the region via the Trans-Ecuadorian pipeline that was completed and operational by 1972.
Amazingly, the Ecuadorian government, like the native tribes, had no clue what to expect when operations began. The fact of the matter was at this point in time, no one has ever even attempted to drill within the Amazon Region, let alone run a multibillion dollar extraction project. Laws were obviously set in place to avoid certain environmental issues and Texaco of course agreed to these terms before they started drilling but, to say the least, these laws were largely ignored and Texaco ended up doing whatever they could to save a few bucks, literally. This whole environmental crisis thats been ongoing for decades? The result of saving an estimated $3.00, THREE DOLLARS, on every barrel of oil produced. Throughout the years of drilling, Texaco went under the radar due to the isolation of the locations in which they were getting rid of the waste.
From 1972-1990, while Texaco was exploiting the natural resources of the area they reportedly were intentionally dumping massive amounts of toxic sludge into the Amazon River which eventually caused many issues within the local population of indigenous tribes throughout the jungle. Not only did Texaco dump their filth into the rivers, they also left a staggering amount of open air pits with waste just sitting there in the middle of the jungle. It is estimated that nearly 1,000 of these pits exist, some being as large as football fields, most were not lined with anything which allows the toxins to seep into the ground. Texaco also has been estimated to dump upwards to 20 BILLION gallons of toxic wastewater known as “product water” into the waterways. This causes multiple issues with the land with the most important being contamination of the food grown in the land as well as the water that the local peoples drink from and bathe in. Pretty messed up right? You are probably thinking to yourself how can we let this happen? Well buckle up, because I’ve only just begun.
These events are being dubbed as the worst natural disaster the world has ever witnessed, coming in the same conversation as the Chernobyl Disaster of 1986. Ironically, many refer to this catastrophe as the “Chernobyl in the Amazon.” Personally, I think that the worst part about this whole thing is that Texaco willingly did this to the environment where as Chernobyl was the result of human error and technological failure, rather than taking some shortcuts to save some money. Yes, all this information sounds awful… because it is awful. You may be thinking, what happens next? What happened to the tribes? Why is Chevron still a company?! I can only answer two of those three questions for you.
If you’re thinking, “No way can this get worse, come on Michael” you might want to stop reading. Due to the nature of how the rivers flow in the Amazon, not only are the tribes of Northern Ecuador suffering from this, it is affecting anyone who lives off of the Amazon’s natural resources. From cancer, to deformations… it is the native people’s of these lands that are paying the price and not the company that caused it. What Texaco failed to take into account is that taking the Amazon River away from these people is a certain death sentence in more ways than one. Taking away the Amazon River from these tribes is equivalent to taking away Texaco’s bank accounts and running them dry. Taking away their way of life and forcing them into poverty as defined by their society. Essentially what Texaco did to these people, who are now poor in the sense not of monetary value, but in the sense of being able to sustain their way of life.
So what’s happening today? The legal battle is over between Ecuador and Chevron. Chevron got involved in 2001 when they acquired Texaco’s assets as well as their liabilities including this lawsuit. Sadly, there is not much of a happy ending to this story.
Chevron eventually won the lawsuit against the people of Ecuador. After an Ecuadorian court ruled against the oil giant in 2013 and awarded nearly $8.6 billion in clean up efforts to the plaintiffs, to be paid for by Chevron and their affiliates. Then, in 2016 after a 20 year battle between the two parties, the ruling was overturned as Chevron was not going to lay down flat and be forced to pay out this fee. Still to this day, millions of gallons of sludge flows through the Amazon, thousands of pools of toxic waste is lying around but yet nothing is being done by Chevron involving clean up efforts.
Please note again that this has been an ongoing battle for the past 30+ years. I covered material briefly just for a simple reference of the events that have taken place during the time period. Regardless of who is at fault, this has had a disastrous effect on our planet and those who peaceful reside on it due to the path to wealth. Something needs to be done, but as of recently Chevron and Texaco will have nothing to do with one of the largest screw-ups, cover-ups or wrongdoings in the history of the Energy Industry.