The Pathologies of the Powerful: Chevron Corporation

“The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.” 

 ― Paul Farmer


March 30th marked a Global Day of Action against Chevron Corporation and the Pacific Trail Pipeline (PTP).  Chevron, with Apache as an equal partner, wants to transport gas from fracking operations in Northeastern BC, Canada, via the PTP to a port in Kitimat where it would be exported to Asia.  A continuous blockade of this project has been in place since November 2012, led by the Unist’ot’en Clan of the Wet’suwet’en Peoples’ traditional territories.   Freda Huson of the Unist’ot’en Clan stated, “We will resist all of their plans. We act to protect our lands, and the increasingly unstable climate, to do what is best for future generations.”  The website for the blockaders states: “The Unist’ot’en Camp is a resistance community whose purpose is to protect sovereign Wet’suwet’en territory from several proposed pipelines from the Tar Sands Gigaproject and shale gas from Hydraulic Fracturing Projects in the Peace River Region.”  Cody Kolenchuk of Rising Tide explained the aim of the protest: “As politicians put economic growth and industry interests ahead of carbon common sense and indigenous rights, it’s up to us to change the course of BC’s energy future”.

In addition to the array of environmental and ethical concerns involved with building pipelines across unceded territory, recent studies have revealed that hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ operations (to remove natural gas from shale rock) causes earthquakes.  This practice also uses large quantities of freshwater, and has the potential to contaminate groundwater.  Late last year, the Fort Nelson First Nation obtained 25,000 signatures on an online petition to oppose increased water use by the gas industry- one contract alone (Encana) would take over 3 billion litres of freshwater.  The petition states that, “[O]ur concerns regarding irresponsible, unsustainable water use have gone ignored. Now our community is forced to stand in defence of our life-sustaining waters and responsible development.”

Disregarding the environmental, social, and cultural consequences of industry activity is something that Chevron is fond of doing.  As I stated in my first post, Chevron engaged in one of the worst environmental abuses in history, in the Ecuadorian Amazon.  An eight year court process and masses of scientific evidence found that Chevron deliberately dumped about 16 billion gallons of toxic waste into waterways, and abandoned more than 900 toxic waste pits that funnel sludge into local waterways.  This led to the deaths and impending deaths of thousands of people, of cancer and various illnesses.  Despite a court ruling, Chevron refuses to compensate the Ecuadorian people who have had to cope with massive contamination of their land and waters and the resulting outbreak of disease.  Chevron owes the Ecuadorian people $19 billion for the damage it caused.  Many of Chevron’s own shareholders even want the company to settle the case, but the company steadfastly refuses, saying they will only do so ‘when hell freezes over’ (is this a metaphor for the potential consequences of a climate catastrophe?).  The CEO John Watson called the case a fraud and the Ecuadorians “criminals”.  Unfortunately, even if Chevron wises up and pays up, this money will not bring back the dead loves ones or fully restore the natural environment to its previous state.  Some damage can never be undone.

ecuador cleanup

Engineers Without Borders USA (no affiliation to the Canadian organization mentioned in my first posts here and here) has apparently spent some time documenting the immense task that local people face in cleaning up the mess, a process that will certainly expose these people to many more toxins (but perhaps, provide them with that all-important job).  EWB USA has attempted to help local people access clean water, since much of the usual water sources are hopelessly contaminated.  It is not clear whether this was successful.

Since Chevron skipped the country and refuses to pay up, the affected people of Ecuador have been forced to try to recoup their losses through filing enforcement actions and attempting to freeze Chevron’s assets abroad. Argentina has already done this, freezing around $2 billion of Chevron’s assets in the country.  Ecuador has filed a lawsuit in Canada at the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario, which may also seize the company’s assets to secure payment.  In Canada, Chevron’s biggest assets are in the tar sands.

Chevron does not contain its irresponsible and unethical acts to Ecuador or unceded Indigenous territories in Canada.  Last year in Nigeria, 2 people died and 154 workers were left floating in the sea for hours after Chevron refused to evacuate them from a gas exploration platform, which then exploded.  Other acts of egregious environmental, social, and cultural devastation are detailed in a 64-page report found here.  Various abuses documented include:

  • possible $22 billion liability in Brazil for an oil spill that leaked thousands of barrels of oil into the Atlantic Ocean.  The prosecutor for the case, Eduardo Santos de Oliveira, stated that, “The oil spill at the Frade field hasn’t been contained.  The damages to the environment and to Brazil’s natural resources are incalculable at this point.”  Unfortunately (but predictably), Chevron is not interested in defending the communities and natural environment it has affected with this spill.  A spokesperson for Chevron stated on the case that, “Chevron will vigorously defend the company and its employees.” He called the charges “outrageous” and “without merit”
  • In Angola, oil activity in the Sea of Cabinda has left the beaches polluted and unusable, and the sand black in colour
  • In Canada, Chevron is planning a major expansion of its tar sands projects despite mounting evidence of the harmful effects on the health and traditional livelihoods of Indigenous communities living downstream
  • Toxic exposures and burst pipelines have caused serious human health effects and environmental devastation in Kazakhstan and Indonesia

To reward Chevron’s CEO John Watson for his role in the Ecuador debacle, Chevron gave him a 65% pay raise in 2011- to about $24.7 million.  Yes, nearly 25 million dollars per year of money created from the profitable combination of environmental devastation, loss of human life, and ignorance of ethical and legal standards.  Chevron’s Board of Directors rewarded their lawyer for the case, General Counsel R. Hewitt Pate, a 75% raise for losing the case, bringing his 2011 salary to $7.8 million.  Karen Hinton, the U.S. spokesperson for the rainforest communities who sued Chevron stated, “Only in America could a major oil company give a 75% raise to a lawyer who lost an $18 billion case to a legal team with a fraction of the resources.” (The lawyer who fought the case against Chevron put himself through law school just so that he could bring the case forward).  Pate’s ‘litigation tactics’ included threatening the presiding judge with jail time if he didn’t rule in favour of Chevron.

Is it an accident that the people who are disproportionately affected by these criminal acts of profit-making are also those who are racialized, colonized, and marginalized?

I doubt it.  The way the world currently operates, some lives really do matter less than others.

What is an Economy For?  What is ‘Development’?

Ecuador mapEcuador is set to sell a third of its rainforest to Chinese oil companies, after pleading with foreign governments to put up the money to save it.  The oil reserves underneath of the rainforest in Ecuador are worth billions, and as of last summer Ecuador owed China more than $7 billion- a tenth of its GDP.  The Ecuadorian Environment Minister Marcela Aguiñaga proposed leaving the oil in the ground in order to preserve precious biodiversity and prevent the release of carbon into the atmosphere.  This offer was refused (because doing the right thing doesn’t pay, and foreign aid only happens when it satisfies the narrow economic interests of rich countries), and therefore more environmental, social, and cultural destruction will certainly ensue– given the record of many Chinese oil companies, we can only assume that this will be yet another great loss for humanity and the natural world, and another catastrophic blow to the climate. The Indigenous communities set to be affected have not given their consent for this exploitation of their resources, but it will likely proceed anyway.  Perhaps an NGO will be brought in to smooth the process.  If that fails, there is always the military option.

This can hardly be called ‘development.’  What is the real bottom line for the human race?  What ensures our healthy collective future, and the futures of our children and grandchildren?  What about social, environmental, and cultural capital?  Perhaps it’s time we started examining the inconsistencies and inequities that are built into our current capitalist economic system, which is excessively focused on monetary gains and the pathological pursuit of infinite growth in a finite world.  This system is clearing the path to the end of human civilization, instead of enabling a sustainable and compassionate global community– one that works together for the good of all beings.

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Written by chelsey_rhodes


Chelsey Rhodes has a degree in Molecular Biology and a Masters degree in Public Health, and has done work in anti- human trafficking, HIV epidemiology, and evaluation of complex health interventions. Several years of working in the ‘development’ industry led to founding this blog in a fit of anger and creative energy. Contact her at

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