Tag Archives: Amazon rainforest pollution

Oil Pollution in Amazon Peru

River Maranon

Hundreds of indigenous people deep in the Peruvian Amazon are blocking a major Amazon tributary following what they say is the government’s failure to address a social and environmental crisis stemming from oil operations.   Kichwa men, women and children from numerous communities have been protesting along the River Tigre for almost a month, barring the river with cables and stopping oil company boats from passing.  Oil companies have operated in the region for over 40 years, and have been linked by local people to pollution that has led the government to declare “environmental emergencies” in the Tigre and other river basins….

The oil concession where the protest is taking place, Lot 1-AB, is Peru’s most productive, but the contract, held by Pluspetrol, expires in August 2015. The government has committed to relicensing it and consulting the indigenous communities involved, but leaders say the contamination and other issues must be addressed first.   “What we want is remediation, compensation, and to be consulted, according to international norms, about the relicensing,” says Fachin. “We won’t permit another 30 years of work otherwise.”…The Kichwas are now they are demanding 100 million Peruvian nuevo soles, from Pluspetrol, for “compensation after almost 45 years of contamination.”

“The state declared an environmental emergency, but hasn’t done anything,” says Guillermo Sandi Tuituy, from indigenous federation Feconat. “It must find a solution to this problem if it wants to relicense the concession.”...Pluspetrol took over Lot 1-AB from Occidental in 2000. It did not respond to requests for comment.

Peru’s indigenous people protest against relicensing of oil concession, Guardian,  Feb, 2, 2012

Demand for Gold Causes Deforestation

gold mine

The global gold rush, driven by increasing consumption in developing countries and uncertainty in financial markets, is an increasing threat for tropical ecosystems. Gold mining causes significant alteration to the environment, yet mining is often overlooked in deforestation analyses because it occupies relatively small areas. As a result, we lack a comprehensive assessment of the spatial extent of gold mining impacts on tropical forests.

The study Global demand for gold is another threat for tropical forests published in Environmental Research Letters provides a regional assessment of gold mining deforestation in the tropical moist forest biome of South America. Specifically, we analyzed the patterns of forest change in gold mining sites between 2001 and 2013, and evaluated the proximity of gold mining deforestation to protected areas (PAs)….Approximately 1680 km2 of tropical moist forest was lost in these mining sites between 2001 and 2013. Deforestation was significantly higher during the 2007–2013 period, and this was associated with the increase in global demand for gold after the international financial crisis….In addition, some of the more active zones of gold mining deforestation occurred inside or within 10 km of ~32 PAs. There is an urgent need to understand the ecological and social impacts of gold mining because it is an important cause of deforestation in the most remote forests in South America, and the impacts, particularly in aquatic systems, spread well beyond the actual mining sites.

Excerpt from Abstract, Global demand for gold is another threat for tropical forests

HardBall: Chevron and the Oil Pollution in Amazon

texaco ecuador.  Image from wikipedia

An environmental case that has pitted Chevron against Ecuadorean Amazon villagers for two decades has taken another bizarre twist, with an American consulting firm now recanting research favorable to the villagers’ claims of pollution in remote tracts of jungle.  The consulting firm, Stratus Consulting of Boulder, Colo., announced late Thursday (April 11, 2013) that it had originally been misled by Steven R. Donziger, a lead lawyer for the Ecuadorean villagers, and had decided to disavow its contributions to scientific research about whether there was groundwater contamination that sickened the residents in swaths of rain forest.

The move prompted the plaintiffs to assert that Chevron was coercing parties to the case, citing this as another example of strong tactics employed by the company as it tries to overturn an Ecuadorean judge’s decision two years ago that it pay $18 billion in damages, one of the largest environmental awards ever. In this instance, the plaintiffs claim that Chevron pressured Stratus to retract its assessment in exchange for dismissal of legal claims in a countersuit filed by Chevron made against the firm — claims that could have pushed the consulting business into bankruptcy.  “Stratus deeply regrets its involvement in the Ecuador litigation,” the firm said. It remains unclear whether this development with Stratus will have much impact on Chevron’s appeals, because the judge also based his ruling on other environmental assessments. The judge ruled that back in the 1970s, Texaco had left an environmental mess in oil drilling operations while operating as a partner with the Ecuadorean state oil company, and that Chevron, which bought Texaco in 2001, must apologize for and was liable for the damage.

Chevron has refused to apologize. In addition to appealing the decision in the Ecuadorean courts, Chevron also filed a countersuit in federal court in New York against Mr. Donziger and Stratus Consulting, accusing them of racketeering and fraud. Because Stratus has now retracted its statements on the Ecuadorean pollution, Chevron agreed not to pursue claims against the firm anymore. On Friday, Chevron filed witness statements from Douglas Beltman, a Stratus vice president, and Ann Maest, a Stratus scientist, in which they now say they were not aware of scientific evidence of groundwater contamination in the former Texaco concession area or of any adverse health impact to people from the operations.

Mr. Beltman stated that “at Donziger’s direction,” he drafted portions of a report in the first person as if it were written by Richard Cabrera, the supposedly independent expert, that detailed environmental damage for the Ecuadorean court. “Donziger stressed to me and Ann Maest the importance of Stratus ensuring that no one learn of Stratus’ involvement in any aspect of the Cabrera Report or Responses,” he said.  In an interview, Mr. Beltman said, “This settlement was extensively negotiated with Chevron and we think it’s fair and it’s not extortion.”  Mr. Donziger said he could not comment since he was a defendant in the racketeering case filed by Chevron.

It was not immediately clear what impact Stratus’s recantation would have on the case. Chevron’s appeal is before Ecuador’s highest court, the National Court of Justice, and the company is defending itself in courts in Canada, Argentina and Brazil to avoid paying damages in those countries. The plaintiffs are waging an international campaign seeking damages because Chevron has no assets in Ecuador itself…

Kent Robertson, a Chevron spokesman, said the statements should uphold the company’s position in the American racketeering case and in the international enforcement proceedings. “The declarations today show there is no scientific evidence to support the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ allegations,” he said.

Craig Smyser, a lawyer for some of the Ecuadorean plaintiffs, said the statements by the consulting firm “should have almost no effect” because the Ecuadorean judge relied on many expert reports other than the one that Stratus was involved in.  He attributed the decision by Stratus to repudiate its earlier work to the “immense financial strain that threatened the financial extinction of the firm, including a campaign by Chevron to discredit Stratus with various government agencies and businesses with which Stratus worked.”

Chevron has been playing hardball for at least four years. The company produced video recordings from pens and watches wired with bugging devices that suggested a bribery scheme surrounding the proceedings and involving a judge hearing the case. An American behind the secret recordings was a convicted drug trafficker.  But the oil company appeared to gain the upper hand three years ago when it won a legal bid to secure the outtakes from a documentary about the case, “Crude,” in which Mr. Donziger was shown describing the need to pressure a Ecuadorean judge and boasting of meetings with Ecuadorean officials.

In a sworn statement filed in an American court, Alberto Guerra, an Ecuadorean judge who heard the Chevron case in 2003 and 2004, accused Nicolas Zambrano, the judge who issued the $18 billion verdict against Chevron, of taking a $500,000 bribe from the plaintiffs. Mr. Zambrano denied the charge, and in his own affidavit, said that Mr. Guerra had told him that Chevron would offer him $1 million in return for a favorable judgment.  Chevron has denied offering any bribes.

By CLIFFORD KRAUSS, Consultant Recants in Chevron Pollution Case in Ecuador, NY Times, April 12, 2013

Chevron in the Amazon

Chevron, the “Energy Link” between US and Latin America, Gamble with Corporate Reputation

Chevron is being sued for more than $11 billion by Brazilian prosecutors [for spilling at least 2,400 barrels of oil offshore Brail]Officials say they are preparing criminal charges against Chevron and its management….Eager to halt criticism from regulators, politicians and environmental groups, Chevron said last November that it “accepted full responsibility” for the incident. But federal prosecutor Eduardo Santos de Oliveira viewed that as an admission of guilt.

Chevron also faces fines of up to $121 million and has had its drilling license suspended in Brazil, where it has spent over $2 billion developing the largest foreign-run oil field.  The crisis in Brazil adds big new risks for Chevron in what could be a year of reckoning for its Latin American portfolio. It already faces an $18 billion environmental verdict in Ecuador, arising from decades of oil pollution in the Amazon region by Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2001.  Its footing in Venezuela — where Chevron stayed after major U.S. oil companies Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips departed in 2007 following oil nationalizations — is also unstable.  Ali Moshiri, Chevron’s head of exploration and production in Latin America and Africa, is hailed as a “close friend” by Venezuela’s anti-American President Hugo Chavez.

Once a playground for U.S. oil investment, Latin America’s resource nationalism, toughening environmental standards, and courts have spooked Big Oil.  “Other oil majors have pulled back,” says Fadel Gheit, an oil analyst at Oppenheimer in New York. Chevron “is stuck on the ground, and a string of mishaps means things have gotten difficult.”  Despite all that, the company is proceeding with its newest Brazil project, the 140,000 barrel-a-day Papa Terra offshore field led by state-run Petrobras, scheduled to start next year….

Latin America is only a minor money maker for Chevron, whose operations span more than 35 countries. It pumps about 166,000 barrels-per-day of oil and equivalent natural gas from Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina and Colombia, or around 6 percent of its 2.67 million bpd output worldwide.  From a liability and public-image perspective, its stakes are far higher. If Brazilian litigation goes badly, Chevron may “rethink” its projects here, people familiar with the situation said.  Chevron’s worst-case scenario damages from Brazil and Ecuador could top the company’s $26.9 billion in 2011 profits.

In January, a judge in Ecuador upheld a ruling ordering Chevron to pay Amazon region plaintiffs $18 billion. Today, Chevron pumps no oil in Ecuador, but the judgment takes the case to a new phase where plaintiffs can attempt to seize Chevron’s assets around the world. One of their lawyers, Steven Donzinger, expects that process to begin within weeks.  Targets for collection may include Latin American countries where legal systems similar to Ecuador’s are seen as sympathetic.  Chevron has counter-sued Donzinger, alleging the Ecuador judgment was obtained through fraud. Since 2004, plaintiffs have leveled their own fraud charges against Chevron. Chevron had chances in past years to settle for a small fraction of the judgment. “It will have a hard time convincing plaintiffs to settle now for less than the full amount,” Donzinger said.  Chevron, which has pressed Ecuador’s government to void the verdict, is optimistic about an eventual victory, as are some analysts. Mark Gilman, an oil analyst at Benchmark in New York, said “Chevron will absolutely not settle this lawsuit.” Ultimately, he said, lawsuits against Chevron in both Ecuador and Brazil have little chance of badly hurting its finances.  But Chevron’s deputy comptroller, Rex Mitchell, warned in U.S. District Court last year that the Ecuadorians’ collection effort could “cause irreparable injury to Chevron’s business reputation and business relationships.”  Chevron may be spending $200 million per year in legal fees related to Ecuador alone, the plaintiff lawyers estimated. Chevron declined to comment on legal fees.

The risks have not stopped Moshiri, 60, a dapper Iranian-American, from jetting around the region and pressing Chevron’s board to maintain investments.  The reason is simple: South America pumps 12 percent of the world’s oil and holds more than 30 percent of its oil and gas resources, and its governments need the oil majors’ expertise.  Venezuela holds 297 billion barrels of reserves, and Brazil aims to become the world’s No. 3 producer by nearly tripling output to around 7 million barrels a day in 2020.  “Venezuela (is) too rich a prize for international oil companies to abandon,” Moshiri told U.S. diplomats, according to a June 2007 cable published by WikiLeaks. He also warned them a “vacuum” left by U.S. companies in Venezuela could be filled by Chinese, Russian and Iranian rivals.  Chevron does not break out investment plans by region, but a review of its Latin America projects suggests it could spend more than $10 billion this decade at five joint-venture oil or gas projects in Venezuela, three large offshore fields in Brazil, three gas fields in Colombia and Argentine concessions…..Moshiri has also served as a back-channel diplomat, State Department cables show. Venezuela “approached Chevron for assistance in dealing with U.S. issues,” Moshiri told U.S. diplomats in 2008. He also called Chevron “the energy link” between Venezuela and the United States, the top buyer of its exports….

Chevron did not put its “best foot forward” in Brazil, CEO John Watson told analysts.  The company initially denied responsibility for a sea surface oil sheen that led to detection of its leak. Earlier, it had experienced a pressure kick at a new Frade well. Oliveira says that Chevron drilled recklessly, allowing a surge of oil and “drilling mud” to puncture fragile rock and breach the seabed. He says Chevron knew the rock it was drilling through might not withstand the oil and gas pressure levels it could find in the reservoir. Chevron has said it took no undue risk at Frade, where its drilling plans were pre-approved by the ANP and environmental regulators.The prosecutor told Reuters the more than $11 billion civil award sought against Chevron is not based on a clear assessment of damages from the spill. The figure is meant to send a message.

Excerpts, By Joshua Schneyer and Jeb Blount, Analysis: Chevron’s Amazon-sized gamble on Latin America, Mar. 12, 2012