Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Crude Story

In another place where a different story began at another time in the last century, the crude also flowed, producing a black gold to propel the powerful engines of commerce and an environmental disaster dubbed the Amazon's Chernobyl.

In the jungle, Big Oil — in the guise of Texaco, which merged in 2001 with Chevron — consumed voraciously and, it is alleged, dumped toxic petrochemical waste from its operations into open pits or directly into water and soil.* Three decades later, its appetite sated, the company decamped, leaving behind for the indigenous in the rainforests of Ecuador water, air, and land reeking of poisons. Soon, rates of cancer, leukemia, birth defects, and other serious health ailments among los afectados ("the affected") increased in the "death zone" the size of Rhode Island.

Claims got made, charges hurled and denied. And Big Oil's representatives, accompanied by a judge and attorneys, among them New York lawyer Steven Donziger for los afectados, paraded out of the courtroom to trudge to and through the fields of massive alleged contamination. In turn came journalists, a 60 Minutes crew among them, politicians, and celebrities and, eventually, filmmaker Joe Berlinger.

For three years, Berlinger investigated and filmed and finally in 2009, at the Sundance Film Festival, debuted his results: Crude: The Real Price of Oil. The documentary, the trailer for which is below, has been screened all over the world and has won award after award. It also has become part of the legal proceedings: Berlinger was ordered to turn over to Chevron more than 600 hours of  raw film footage, an order he fought vigorously. Just days ago, that order was modified. 

Up against a $27 billion environmental lawsuit (to date, the largest of its kind in history), Chevron holds firm and the complex legal wrangling and high drama continue. Meanwhile, the degradation of the land and its ecosystem remains unremediated or poorly remediated and human suffering goes on. Berlinger, noting that it took almost 20 years to appeal the Exxon Valdez judgment, has said "it will be generations before this case is fully resolved."

Bear witness, and as Berlinger asks, "[T]hink about why this story matters to us all."

* The Campaign for Justice in Ecuador states in its literature that experts' estimates are that "approximately 345 million gallons or pure crude were discharged into Ecuador's rainforest and waterways relied on by local groups for fishing, bathing, and drinking. For decades, Texaco (now Chevron) deliberately dumped 18 billion gallons of toxic oil wastes, 17 million gallons of oil, and left over 900 unlined oil pits in Ecuador's Amazon rainforest. The contamination has decimated indigenous groups in Ecuador and caused an outbreak of illness, birth defects, and cancers that account for at least 1,400 deaths." Recently, the organization sponsored a cultural exchange between Bayou Native American  tribes affected by the BP oil disaster and leaders of Ecuador's indigenous communities devastated by Chevron's oil contamination.

Blog with Case Updates

Press Kit with Synopsis, Director's Statement, Timeline of Events in Case, Interview with Filmmaker, and Biographies of Key Figures

Interview, "Joe Berlinger and the Moral Imperative of 'Crude'", The Huffington Post, September 3, 2009

Esme McAvoy, "Who Will Pay for Amazon's 'Chernobyl'?", The Independent, January 10, 2010

Deborah Zabarenko, "Is Oil Giant Chevron Afraid of a Movie?", Reuters, September 9, 2009

You Tube: Amazon Crude on 60 Minutes: Part 1 and Part 2

The Berlinger documentary is available on DVD.

Among many other organizations, Amazon Watch, Human Rights Watch, EarthRights International, Amazon Defense Coalition, Witness, and The Campaign for Justice in Ecuador, support the case against Chevron.


Louise Gallagher said...

It has nothing to do with oil. It has to do with poor sanitation.

Give me strength.

Give us all strenght to stand up for what is right.

Thank you Maureen.

Anonymous said...

oh the tangled
web we weave
oh the tangled web
when we practice
to deceive
we lose our head

oh how cold the heart
in man
oh how cold the heart
to put aside
each other's need
we are so full
of greed

katdish said...

Where there is greed and corruption, most things are overlooked, impoverished people feel helpless because they feel they have no voice. And you know what? Mostly they don't.

S. Etole said...

And how does one undo the undoable?

Kathleen Overby said...

I feel helpless when I am exposed to such horrors. Part of me would rather bury my head in the sand, the other wants to stand on the roof and scream it out loud and long. Let's do a RETWEET revolution on this one, huh?
Thanks for your researching, digging, uncovering skills, Maureen. Exposing ugly truth is as important as revealing beautiful truth. Your posts do both.

Joy said...

Sad doesn't even begin to touch the breadth and depth of this tragedy. Why is it that the bigger the company, the smaller its conscience?

Joyce Wycoff said...

A crude story it is indeed! As the recipients of the product of this greed and corruption, every one of us needs to take some action, regardless of how small to support and spread this story.