Discovering oil in a community is not considered a blessing
For indigenous people in the Ecuadoran Amazon, the American film Avatar was more than just an imaginary world. Avatar, which came out in 2009 and was directed by James Cameron embodies a current struggle between the demand for natural resources and its impact on indigenous communities. Indigenous people from the Ecuadorian Amazon traveled thousands of miles into the capital just to see their story projected on film. For many of indigenous communities Avatar brought attention to the ongoing battle of the oil development and the negative effects it has on their environments. This week I will bring you to the Ecuadoran Amazon basin to a remote northern region known as the Oriente. The Oriente is one of the world’s most catastrophic examples of how oil changed everything.
Now there are only toxic leftovers of oil companies in Oriente. In 1992, Texaco an American oil company left Ecuador and what remained was evidence of foul practices. Despite the company’s ability to invest in modern and innovative technological of oil abstraction, for the 28 years that they were in the Amazon cheap substandard technology was used. Consequently, over 300 billions gallons of crude, 350 oil wells, and 1,000 open waste oil pits, all contribute to pollution and hazardous exposure of toxins in the area. However, this story is not over. During its year of operation Texaco continued to exploit environmental regulations of the United States and Ecuador. This includes the “accidents” of dumping over 18 billion gallons of formation water in nearby streams. Formation water is a highly toxic and is a byproduct of the drilling process. This is a practice was outlawed in major US oil producing states like Louisiana, Texas, and California decades before the company began operations in Ecuador in 1967.
People claim they are drenched in oil
Indigenous communities claimed they were left with hazardous effects to their health and extensive environmental damages. According to Chevron Toxico justice initiative (the campaign for justice in Ecuador) the people have made an allegation that Texaco and Ecuadorian government did not get consent to drill in the Oriente area. Therefore “las personas no eran conscientes de los efectos de que el petróleo ha traído.” The people were unaware of the effects that oil had brought said Colon from the indigenous Secoya community and indeed there are many.
Texaco’s oil pits made land infertile to grow crops, trees were replaced with oil pipes, and oil runoffs heavily polluted rivers and killed off fish. This left many indigenous people in dire poverty, as they are unable to count on resources they have counted on for years. Exposure to toxins in water and consumption of food from polluted soil resulted in staggering effects on health. The department of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene of the University of London produced a study that documented an increased rates of cancer among the populations in the areas where Texaco drilled (Yana Curi Report, 2000). Specifically, the study provides evidence that residents in the oil zone experience suffer 30 times more larynx cancer, 18 times more bile duct cancer, 15 times more liver and skin cancer, and five times more stomach cancer (Talbot, 1999). In February of 1999, a community of 500 people where Texaco had operated several wells reported 15 cases of cancer. In another indigenous community it was discovered that, four women, all fewer than 40, reported uterine cancer. It is rare to find a child in the region who does not have some type of skin rash due to exposure from toxic chemicals. Ultimately, many indigenous people have moved away from their own lands, leaving behind what they have owned for centuries and along with their cultures.
In 2009 30,000 indigenous communities of the Amazon basin organized and got international attention when they demanded 27 billion from the Chevron (inherited the damages after it bought Texaco in 2001) for the damages. Chevron response was the indigenous people claims were “fraudulent.” According to Chevron these claims were not certified by Ecuadorian court and therefore could not be taken into account. The company even went as far as suing indigenous groups who asked for the compensation and asked the Ecuadorian court to reject the research reports that documented pollution in the Amazon basin. Despite Texaco’s extensive efforts to demean claims of pollution, after Avatar many of the indigenous people in the Oriente continue to organize against them. Toxic Tours led by Ecuadorian villages allowed tourist to bear witness the heavily polluted environment, as a result of the nonchalant environmental practices. The secrete was out and this led to the Chevron case with 30000 indigenous people on one side and Texaco on the other.
This case began in United States courts; 18years later has been dragged to its original home in Ecuador and generated more than 200,000 pages of evidence. According to the New York Times, in February 2011 Ecuadorian courts granted the people of Ecuador $9.5 billion — the largest environmental verdict in history — but far less than the $27 billion they were seeking. However, the fight is far from over. Chevron continues to argue that it should be spared liability because Texaco carried out a 40-million-U.S.-dollar cleanup project as agreed to with the Ecuadorian government in 1998. They have put a stop to the plaintiffs from recovering damages through temporary injunctions, which includes Chevron lawsuit of Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act against their accusers, saying they engaged in racketeering and extortion.
And still the Indigenous people wait for justice ……