In 1967, Texaco (now Chevron) discovered huge reserves of oil beneath the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador, a roadless place whose indigenous inhabitants had virtually no contact with the outside world. That swiftly changed, as Texaco and its partners built roads and even an airport into the jungle to extract billions of barrels worth trillions of dollars. They left behind 18 billion gallons of toxic sludge. Or so the lawsuit filed on behalf of the Amazonian people claims. That suit has been going on since 1993, and last year, in an unprecedented ruling, an Ecuadorian court ordered Chevron to pay $18 billion. It will be a long time – if ever – before the company hands over a dime. In fact, it responded by suing the plaintiffs’ American lawyer, Steven Donziger. But the real motivation is less to save the money (Chevron recorded a record profit of $26.9 billion in 2011) than to send a signal. As a company lobbyist said to Newsweek, “We can’t let little countries screw around with big companies like this.”
I teach a documentary about this case, “Crude, The Real Price of Oil,” whose maker told Mother Jones, “I hope that the film sends the message out that you should be very aware of where your products come from and how companies act in your name.”
I hope as well that it makes people look closer to home, where the forces behind gas “fracking” are making the same promises and behaving with the same arrogance as Chevron has in Ecuador.