Economy

Chevron's Inhumane Energy Exposed to Light of Day but Oil Giant Keeps on Spinning

Chevron's wrought destruction in the U.S., Angola, Burma, Canada, Chad, Cameroon, Ecuador, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Nigeria and the Philippines.

Though 2008 was Chevron’s most profitable year in its more than 130 year history, the oil giant is facing opposition from increasing numbers of global citizens who say the company’s environmental, public health, and human rights record leaves much to be desired.

Representatives of a broad coalition of “Chevron-affected communities” in Richmond, CA, Nigeria, Ecuador, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Burma, and elsewhere presented “The True Cost of Chevron: An Alternative Annual Report,” to Chevron shareholders at their May 27 meeting in San Ramon, California. The coalition plans to again bring its report to Chevron CEO David O’Reilly when he debates Carl Pope of the Sierra Club in San Francisco on June 10.

O’Reilly, ranked by Forbes as the 15th highest paid CEO in the country with nearly $50 million in total compensation for the past year, responded to grievances detailed in the report by saying they “are an insult to Chevron employees, and should be thrown in the trash.”

Antonia Juhasz, lead author and editor of the report, later reflected, “In response to our presence, Chevron offered no answers to our substantive concerns, but rather continued its misinformation campaign to shareholders, employees, and the public by trying to keep the true cost of its human rights and environmental liabilities off its balance sheet.”

The report was written by activists from a diverse international network of movements from populations damaged by Chevron’s practices.  It describes destruction caused by the oil giant in U.S. states from Alaska to New York, and in Angola, Burma, Canada, Chad, Cameroon, Ecuador, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, and the Philippines.   The study’s introduction states, “These accounts are demonstrative, not conclusive.  We would need 100 reports to take account of all such impacts.”

Chevron’s current ad campaign is designed to paint the oil giant greenish.  Print and TV ads are filled with environmentally-friendly conservation tips.  But critics say the strength of Chevron’s commitment to environmentalism is epitomized in one ad featuring a man holding  a hand to his head over the words, “I will at least consider a hybrid.”

At the May 27 demonstration outside the annual meeting where the coalition delivered its findings, several hundred people from a variety of groups made noise and waved signs.  Activists satirized  Chevron’s ads, holding clear plexiglass panels in front of their faces, with slogans including “I will expose toxic polluting” along the bottom.  Protestors also held enlargements of several mock Chevron ads created by a progressive advertising agency.  Those parodies can be seen at truecostofchevron.com; several other spoof Chevron ads, which can be seen at oil watchdog.org, were also on display.

As the Alternative Report points out, Chevron spent less than 3% of its total capital and exploratory expenditures on clean alternative energy in 2008.  The corporation is expanding into environmentally destructive methods of oil production, including extraction of Canadian oil sands and Midwestern shale, and is investing hugely in biofuels, which do nothing to reduce greenhouse gasses.  In addition, Chevron lobbied from the 1990s until 2002 against science confirming that emissions of heat-trapping gasses lead to global warming.

Chevron’s PR offensive is perhaps ill-served by the recent history of its new chief counsel, William J. Hayes.  Hayes was the Pentagon’s former chief civilian lawyer, and wrote or supervised memoranda that secrety authorized harsh treatment for detainees at Guantanamo and in Iraq, including, the recommendation that dogs be used “to exploit phobias” of suspects.

Hayes’s new employer has systematically poised itself to profit from the Iraq war.  Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Chevron has worked to transform the country’s nationalized oil system into a largely privatized modelopen to U.S. oil company access and control. 

In a November, 2008 letter to President elect Obama, Chevron recommended a new “Strategic Energy Partnership,” writing that as “the Iraqi government opens its energy resources for foreign investment, the U.S. government should highlight the strong value proposition of U.S. company investment.”

At the May 27 demonstration in San Ramon, Jordan Towers, a U.S. marine who served in Iraq, said,  “Chevron supported the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein through oil marketing contracts for years.” Towers, who is now a member of Bay Area Iraq Veterans Against the War, continued, “Chevron is now trying to profit off the invasion by signing long term production contracts. As veterans of the global war on terror, my fellow service members and I are here today to oppose Chevron’s attempts to benefit from a war in which so many of our fellow service members have lost there lives. We oppose Chevron’s attempts to acquire the resources of the Iraqi people.”

The Alternative Report describes the court case against Chevron over its role in collaborating with the Nigerian military to violently suppress a nonviolent demonstration.  That 1998 crackdown killed two men, and others were injured and tortured.  Though Chevron was found not liable for the military’s actions, the company did not deny paying the soldiers, and transporting and directing them on the day of the attacks.  The decision will be appealed.

A case alleging mass environmental destruction in Ecuador is still pending.  Plantiff’s argue that Texaco’s (bought by Chevron) production from 1964 to 1990 resulted in catastrophic damage, with 18 billion gallons of toxic waste dumped in rainforest soil, rivers, and groundwater.  The suit links this dumping to a wave of cancers, birth defects and miscarriages which has affected 30,000 Ecuadorans.

The report also points to Chevron helping  provide Burma’s military dictators with their main source of income.

Most American companies are forbidden by U.S. law from doing business in Burma, but Chevron owns a company that was grandfathered in under the sanctions, so it can cash in on partnering with Burma’s brutal regime.

Closer to its Chevron’s headquarters, in the poor community of Richmond, California, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists the company’s refinery as being in “significant noncompliance” with U.S. air pollution standards.  The Richmond facility is ranked as one of “dirtiest/worst” facilities in the nation by “Scorecard,”  which compares EPA data across U.S. facilities.  The EPA reported nearly 100,000 pounds of toxic waste from the site in 2007, including at least 38 different toxic substances.  These included nearly 4,000 pounds of benzine, a known carcinogen, and 455,000 pounds of amonia, exposure to which can cause asthma-like symptoms and lead to lung damage.

The alternative report takes issue with Chevron’s claim that “meeting future demand will be one of the world’s great challenges – but one that Chevron is convinced can be met in an environmentally responsible way.”  The activists respond: “Nothing in this report suggests such a contention.  Nor does it indicate that Chevron will be able to do so (or seek) to do so in a manner that protects social, political, or human rights.”

Ben Terrall is a freelance writer who lives in San Francisco.
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