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CSR Press Release

Chevron Used Secret Lab to Hide Dirty Soil Samples from Ecuador Court, Say Company Documents

Oil Giant Also Duped Its Own Paid Experts To Give False Testimony About Deceptive Sampling

Submitted by: Amazon Defense Coalition

Categories: Environment, Corporate Social Responsibility

Posted: Dec 20, 2011 – 04:50 PM EST

 

NEW YORK, Dec. 20 /CSRwire/ - In an ever more stunning expose of Chevron's fraud before the Ecuador court, a U.S. federal judge has ordered the disclosure of documents that demonstrate Chevron used a secret lab in the United States to hide the existence of dirty soil samples taken from the company's contaminated former well sites in the Amazon.

The documents also show that Chevron's scientific experts in the Ecuador trial -- one of whom is a respected professor at the University of California  -- executed a scheme that guaranteed the company would find only "clean" soil samples from contaminated well sites while all "dirty" samples would be sent to a lab called NewFields, where they would not be disclosed to the court.

The existence of the NewFields lab, which is based in Atlanta, was not disclosed by Chevron to either the plaintiffs or the Ecuador trial court before it ruled in February that the company was liable for $18 billion in clean-up damages. Even though Chevron tried to present a false picture of the evidence to the court, the Ecuador judge found that scientific samples from the plaintiffs and other court-appointed experts clearly demonstrated extensive pollution at all of the 94 former Chevron well sites and production stations inspected during the trial.

Chevron executed its deceptive sampling plan by secretly and unilaterally pre-inspecting well sites in the days before court-supervised judicial inspections of the same sites, which were attended by both parties and the judge. Chevron used the pre-inspections to plot areas on ground higher than the contaminated waste pits where soil samples would come up "clean" during the official inspections process.  See here and here.

As a general matter, the documents show that only Chevron's "clean" soil samples were submitted to the Ecuador court despite rampant pollution on the ground and in streams and rivers near all Chevron well sites that were inspected by the parties during the trial, which lasted from 2003 to 2011.  As an example, see this photo of Shushufindi 38, a former Chevron well site where Chevron in contrast to the plaintiffs reported that it found no contamination in its soil samples.

Other documents (here and here) show Chevron committed fraud by lying to some of its own technical experts so they would laud the company's deceptive sampling practices even though they were designed to mislead the court.

Lawyers for the rainforest communities immediately submitted the new documents – one called "The Judicial Inspection Playbook" and written by a Houston-based environmental consulting firm -- to the Ecuador appellate court that will determine whether to uphold the $18 billion judgment against Chevron for discharging billions of gallons of oil-laced toxic waste into the Amazon rainforest, decimating five indigenous groups and causing an outbreak of cancer. The judgment was handed down on February 14 after an eight-year trial that produced 220,000 pages of evidence.

The new documents were not part of the evidence presented to the Ecuador trial court.  U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael E. Hagarty in August 2011 ordered them disclosed as part of a discovery action in Colorado against Bjorn Bjorkman, a Chevron expert. They were included in a legal filing last week made before a New York federal judge. See here for all the documents.

"The stunning 11th-hour disclosure of these in-house documents clearly proves Chevron went through a meticulous planning process to defraud the Ecuador court and in fact defrauded the Ecuador court in a systematic way during the judicial inspections process," said Pablo Fajardo the lead Ecuadorian lawyer in the case. 

"The document also closes the loop on what we long suspected -- that Chevron's scientists were systematically hiding from the court the existence of extensive contamination at all of Chevron's former well sites," he added.

Completed in 2006 by Chevron experts at GSI Environmental in Houston, "The Judicial Inspection Playbook" indicates that during the trial Chevron planned to hide or minimize the extent of the toxic threat at each of its 378 former well sites and production stations. Dozens of those sites were inspected during the trial, with soil and water samples being submitted to laboratories for analysis with the results becoming part of the main body of evidence relied on by the court.

The newly disclosed documents demonstrate that:

  • Chevron secretly pre-tested its former well sites to guarantee results the company sought during the judicial inspections process;
  • Chevron directed its experts to only test areas that had been pre-determined "clean" during the secret pre-inspections;
  • Chevron directed its experts to send its "dirty" samples to the undisclosed lab, called NewFields;
  • To whitewash its rigged sampling procedures, Chevron made false representations to the Ecuador court; 
  • Chevron attempted to thwart the ability of the Ecuadorian communities to obtain the new documents on the grounds they could cause "substantial harm" to Chevron.

The Ecuador court never received lab results from NewFields, which markets its ability to help corporations manage human rights violations involving contamination. "Clean" samples were sent to the Severn Trent lab, Chevron's laboratory of record during the trial but one that also has come under attack for not being independent.

Evidence also emerged that Chevron altered the "Judicial Inspections Playbook" document to remove references to parts of its deceptive sampling plan before giving it to Douglas M. MacKay, Ph.D, a Chevron expert who teaches at the University of California at Davis. Based on the altered plan, MacKay was induced by Chevron to submit a robust defense of Chevron's sampling plan to the Ecuador court -- a blatant act of fraud by Chevron, according to the plaintiffs.

In his submission to the Ecuador court, MacKay and two other experts, Pedro J. Alvarez, Ph.D and Robert E. Hinchee, Ph.D, concluded "there is no foundation for the serious allegations … that [Chevron's] sampling program deliberately hides or minimizes the existing contamination."  The allegation has been made by the plaintiffs in a report submitted by their own U.S. technical experts, Dr. Ann Maest and Bill Powers.

"Chevron's decision to withhold this information from the Ecuadorian court, to defend its otherwise indefensible sampling methodology, and to submit expert reports that rely on altered documents is a fraud on the Ecuadorian justice system," read a brief filed recently by the plaintiffs before a New York federal court in a related matter.

The  Chevron "playbook" for the judicial inspections instructed the company's experts that "locations for sampling should be chosen to emphasize clean points around pits".  Chevron also directed its experts to "collect soil samples at 4 or more locations surrounding the site, using locations the PI (Pre-Inspection) team has shown to be clean."

Chevron also created individual "playbooks" for each site to be inspected by the court, based on its undisclosed pre-inspection visits.  For example, the playbook for the Sacha North Production Station indicates that of three borings Chevron made during its pre-inspection, one afforded Chevron an acceptable "delineation point" to return to at the subsequent court inspection.  The others showed or tested positive for contamination.

During the trial, Chevron issued multiple press releases defending the integrity of its sampling process, all of which contained false information, said Karen Hinton, the U.S. spokesperson for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs.

Chevron's manipulation of sampling evidence is also consistent with statements made by Chevron contractor Diego Borja that he would swap out contaminated samples collected from judicial inspection sites with clean samples collected at other locations to send to the supposedly independent Severn Trent Laboratory.  Borja testified that the Severn Trent Laboratory actually "belonged to Chevron" and was directed by Borja's wife, Sara Portilla.

The Ecuadorians called on MacKay, Alvarez and Hinchee to disavow their report in light of the new evidence, said Hinton.

“Chevron duped Dr. MacKay and the other experts," she said. “We therefore urge them to recant their findings and immediately notify the Ecuador appellate court.”

The new information also increases the pressure on John Conner, Chevron's lead U.S. technical expert during the Ecuador trial.  Conner, the lead partner at GSI Environmental, was paid an estimated $8 million by Chevron for his work in Ecuador and is thought to be the main author of the "Judicial Inspection Playbook" document. 

As Chevron's main technical witness in the Ecuador case, Connor's credibility has taken several serious blows as of late and he could be sanctioned for participating in the oil giant's scheme in Ecuador, said Hinton.  Last year, Conner was the main Chevron witness at a trial in Mississippi where a jury rejected his scientific analysis and decided in favor of the plaintiffs.

Conner is now Chevron's main technical witness in a private international arbitration action that the oil giant hopes will shift the $18 billion liability to Ecuador's government.  Without his testimony, Chevron's prospects in that action certainly look dim, said Hinton.

A list of some of Chevron’s judicial inspection experts, all of whom were presumably guided by the protocols in the "Playbook", included (in addition to Connor): Ernesto Baca, Gino Bianchi, Fernando Morales, Jorge Salcedo, Bjorn Bjorkman, Gregory Douglas, Charles Newell, Jimmy Kirkland, Les Oakes, Thomas McHugh, Burton Suedel, Van Ekambaram, Mala Pattanayek, Bridgette DeShields, Lloyd Deuel, Raymond C. Loehr, Marcelo Muñez, and Gerardo Barros.

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