A new 100-page report raises alarm over Chevron’s impact on planet

  • An independent expert report has determined that of the 70 ongoing cases in 31 countries against Chevron, only 0.006% ($286-million) in fines, court judgements, and settlements have been paid. The company still owes another $50.5-billion in total globally.
  • The largest of those payout judgements is for $9.5 billion in environmental damages representing 30,000 plaintiffs in Ecuador where the oil damage is so severe, it’s known as the “Amazon Chernobyl”.
  • Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela are amongst a number of countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and beyond where there are ongoing litigations against Chevron. In the U.S. alone, there are 13 ongoing litigations against Chevron.
  • The same day the report was released, international human rights lawyer Steven Donziger, lead attorney on the Chevron Ecuador case, was imprisoned. His incarceration came after nearly two years of house arrest in New York City and an intense legal battle for his freedom.

Just a day ahead of U.S. congressional hearings on climate change with heads of the largest oil companies in the world, a scathing new report has found that Chevron oil has dozens of outstanding legal cases for environmental damage, and a track record of not paying the associated fines, fees, and judgements.

The independent report, compiled by environmental anthropologist Nan Greer with the support of fellow experts from Amazon Watch, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth-Nigeria, Greenpeace, and others, was based on research originally prepared last year for the Israeli parliament.

Greer determined through her research that there are a total of 70 ongoing cases around the world in 31 countries against Chevron in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and beyond. Of those, only 0.006% of required fines, court judgements, and settlements have been paid, or about $286 million. Another $50.5 billion is still pending.

In the U.S. alone, there are 13 ongoing litigations against Chevron.

Around 600 gallons of an oil-and-water mixture spilled from a Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, California into the San Francisco Bay on February 10, 2021. Image © Josh Edelson / Greenpeace.

Greer also consulted with international human rights lawyer Steven Donziger for the report — given his expertise as the lead attorney on a case for 30,000 plaintiffs in Ecuador against Chevron in an oil spill case so extreme it’s been dubbed the “Amazon Chernobyl.” That case resulted in a $9.5 billion judgement, the largest to date against Chevron. An unusual sequence of events after that judgement eventually resulted in Donziger spending nearly two years of house arrest in New York City, pending imprisonment.

The day Greer’s report was released on October 27, Donziger was imprisoned.

Commenting briefly on the newly-released report on Wednesday, Greer said she is astounded by the data she managed to gather on the environmental and human rights abuses that Chevron committed across the world.

“It says horrible things about large companies, multi-national companies,” Greer said in an interview. “It says that they can completely walk around international laws, national laws, the laws of their domicile.”

Greer said while she did expect to find a fair number of cases when she commenced her research, the information is a lot more than she expected, proving that one of the world’s biggest oil giants is not being held accountable for the abuses being inflicted on humans and the environment. In Alaska, 400 Inuit were forcibly relocated in relation to flooding associated with Chevron’s oil exploration in the region. The company is accused of seismic blasting underwater in order to find oil reserves beneath the Arctic Ocean, a practice scientists fear will adversely affect wildlife. The marine area is home to 116 species of fish and over 80% of the world’s narwhal population.

“How is it that we can’t even hold Chevron accountable in our own country?” asks Greer. “It’s a scary thing to think that national and international laws are up for the highest bidder, but this is what we are seeing.”

Even more shocking, notes Greer, is that many of the cases are in the public domain, yet national and international legal systems have not been able to hold Chevron accountable, including the United Nations.

Greer noted that many people around the world have shared their support of Indigenous Peoples and environmental rights, yet it seems that their voices are going unheard and large companies are being allowed a free pass. In Indonesia’s Riau province, the Sakai Indigenous people have continuously protested Chevron’s refusal to pay compensation for use of their land and environmental damages.

“I am concerned that there are people who have not yet found any justice,” Greer said. “There has been very little done to pay them for the damage that was caused. [Payment] is so minimal it’s disgusting. I am very worried about all these cases, about all these countries and about the people who aren’t able to speak up.”

Referring to one of the cases in Nigeria, Greer noted that when they tried to hold Chevron accountable for the destruction they caused in lands of the Indigenous Ilaje, they were made to pay legal fees so that the oil giant can deal with their cases. Non-violent protests by members of the affected communities were met with shots, beatings and torture by Chevron-hired military recruits.

Make Big Oil Pay march to Chevron, EPA and BP in California in 2010. Image by Steve Rhodes via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

“This is astounding and these things are stopping people from telling what is happening to them,” Greer says. “This is one of the enormous concerns that I have — that these cases are not being addressed.”

Another concern for Greer is that lawyers who represent affected countries or peoples are being targeted by Chevron. In the case of the Donziger, she noted, the United Nations statement for his release was not complied with by the United States government.

At his home in New York City last Friday, when asked if he would take the case again knowing what he knows now, Donziger said yes. But he also said holding the powerful to account for environmental destruction needs to be on more people’s radar.

As for Greer, she said she’s not done digging into the subject yet, and plans to release a more comprehensive analysis of all Chevron’s pending court cases in every country where they operate.

Chevron could not be reached by Mongabay for comment by time of publication.

Banner image: Make Big Oil Pay march to Chevron, EPA & BP in California, 2010. Image by Steve Rhodes via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).