Yesterday I reviewed the book Crude World and today I watched the documentary Crude directed by Joe Berlinger. Ironically, Crude follows the multi-year struggle of 30,000 indigenous and colonial rainforest dwellers of Ecuador as they struggle to hold Chevron accountable for what many environmentalists are saying is the world’s worst case of oil contamination ever. This story was told in one chapter of Crude World, but you don’t really embrace the full effect of the devastation and human struggling until you witness it yourself.
The lawsuit was filed against Texaco but when Chevron merged with Texaco in 2001 they inherited the suit. Originally filed in the United States, the suit was dropped and moved to Ecuador where against all odds, the courts proceeded with the case. The people are led by local lawyer Pablo Fajardo who is being assisted by American lawyer Steven Donzinger. The documentary covers three years of the case and follows the plaintiffs to three continents and begins with the judges orders to visit the contamination sites.
Eventually, the judge orders a third party to come in and test the various contamination sites (which Chevron has claimed to test and found no pollutants that exceed U.S. EPA regulations). When the 4,000 page report is released in 2008, it “recommends compensation for environmental remediation, excess cancer deaths, impacts on indigenous culture, and Texaco’s ‘unjust enrichment’ from its operations.” The monetary cost: $27 billion dollars. Chevron is disputing the report. The court, however, does not have to take the recommendations of the third party and as of today, no judgment has been handed down. Experts believe that the case will drag on for at least another 10 years until Chevron bankrupts all the parties involved but themselves.
This fight is yet another example of the social injustices that occur as a direct result of our addiction to oil. But it also leads me to ask the question, if the United States can’t hold Big Oil accountable for its sins, how can a country like Ecuador hold them accountable?
I propose that the next film Berlinger take on is California’s Big Love for Big Oil. As the leading state for environmental policy, it’s unfortunate that Big Oil is still able to walk away from its environmentally ethical obligations and go about its business. It’s high time this practice ends.