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Chevron Fraud Scandal In Ecuador Implicates Rice University Professor

Dr. Pedro J. Alvarez Asked to Disavow Report Submitted In $18 Billion Environmental Case In Ecuador

Chevron Fraud Scandal In Ecuador Implicates Rice University Professor

Dr. Pedro J. Alvarez Asked to Disavow Report Submitted In $18 Billion Environmental Case In Ecuador

Published 01-03-12

Submitted by Amazon Defense Coalition

A prominent environmental engineering professor at Rice University has been implicated in a fraud scandal in Ecuador's courts after submitting a report defending Chevron that appears to be the product of fabricated evidence, say lawyers for the plaintiffs.

The professor, Dr. Pedro J. Alvarez, submitted the report in 2006 to a trial court in Ecuador's Sucumbios province defending Chevron's soil and water sampling methodology even though it was deeply flawed and designed to hide evidence of contamination from the court, according to a letter sent to Alvarez by Aaron M. Page, a lawyer for the 30,000 plaintiffs in the case.  The court was hearing evidence about one of the largest oil-related disasters in history, caused by  Chevron when it used sub-standard practices in a large area of Ecuador's Amazon rainforest from 1964 to 1992.

"As a prominent professor and the chair of your department at Rice University, you surely recognize your duty to uphold the highest standards of academic integrity," wrote Page in the letter to Alvarez.  "To protect your own integrity and the integrity of Rice University, the Aguinda plaintiffs respectfully request that you disavow your 2006 opinion and notify the Ecuadorian court of the same."

Copies of the letter were sent to David W. Leebron, the President of Rice University; Edwin L. Thomas, the Dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering at Rice; Joseph S. Cavarretta, the executive director of the American Academy of Environmental Engineers; Chevron CEO John S. Watson; and Chevron General Counsel R. Hewitt Pate.

Last February the Ecuador court, in a 188-page decision, found Chevron liable for systematically dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest and abandoning more than 900 unlined waste pits carved out of the jungle floor. The court found Chevron's contamination decimated indigenous groups and caused an outbreak of cancer that continues to put the lives of thousands of people at risk.

The venue of the trial was shifted from U.S. federal court in New York to Ecuador at Chevron's request, with the $18 billion judgment currently under appeal by both parties.  The Alvarez report is part of the record being reviewed by the appellate court. 

Alvarez is currently the chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Rice University. He listed his affiliation with Rice to the Ecuador court as a way to add much-needed credibility to the disputed report, which came at a time that Chevron was on the defensive in the face of evidence that it had left extensive soil and water contamination at hundreds of its former well sites in Ecuador, said Page.

Page noted in his letter that Chevron apparently deceived Alvarez by sending him an altered internal document on which to base his opinion that hid the company's deceptive sampling practices in Ecuador. The altered Chevron document sent to Alvarez made it appear that the company was undertaking neutral environmental assessments of the polluted sites in Ecuador, rather than working to hide the presence of toxic contamination by only lifting "clean" samples that were plotted during a secret pre-inspection process hidden from the court, according to documents attached to the letter.

Chevron also sent any "dirty" samples lifted during its secret pre-inspection to a secret lab where they would not be disclosed to the court, according to the original Chevron document.

The original Chevron document that outlined the deceptive sampling methodology, and the altered plan given to Alvarez that made the sampling appear neutral, were ordered released by a U.S. federal judge in a related litigation in Colorado.

The original document ordered Chevron's technical team to choose "locations for sampling … to emphasize clean points around (oil) pits.  The sanitized version given to Alvarez omitted instructions to test only "clean" spots.

Chevron thus far has refused to account for the discrepancy, but at a minimum Alvarez should explain what he knows given his ethical obligations both to the Ecuador court and to Rice University, said Karen Hinton, the U.S. spokesperson for the Ecuadorians.

"It would be outrageous for Alvarez to leave his deceptive report undisturbed in the Ecuador court record in light of the facts presented here,” said Hinton. “Doing so would only perpetuate Chevron's fraud before the court and undermine the entire concept of academic integrity."

Alvarez concluded in his report that there was "no foundation" for allegations that Chevron's sampling was designed to "deliberately hide or minimize the existing contamination."  Earlier, experts for the plaintiffs had accused the oil giant of deliberately hiding contamination by lifting samples uphill or far away from the oil-laden waste pits that were being inspected.

Chevron has a long history of using junk science in Ecuador.  In the mid-1990s, the company used a deceptive laboratory test (called the TCLP) to minimize large quantities of soil and water contamination as part of a sham clean-up required by Ecuador's government. Fraud related to the clean-up led to the criminal indictment of two Chevron officials.

Chevron also has been implicated in a variety of human rights and legal violations in Ecuador as it tries to evade paying the $18 billion judgment.

Chevron recently was caught trying to bribe Ecuador's government to quash the legal case and entrap the presiding judge in a video bribery scandal, and was hit with sanctions for filing frivolous motions and for threatening the Ecuador judge with jail if he didn't rule in the company's favor. Chevron also remained silent in the face of mysterious death threats and robberies directed at lawyers for the plaintiffs. The company also has been sanctioned by a U.S. judge for harassing witnesses who worked on behalf of the Ecuador plaintiffs.

Also paid by Chevron to sign the Alvarez report was Dr. Douglas MacKay, a professor at the University of California, Davis; and Dr. Robert Hinchee, an environmental consulting engineer.  Both Mackay and Hinchee also have been asked to notify the Ecuador court that they disavow the report, said Hinton. See here and here.

Alvarez is known for his close ties to the oil industry.  A textbook which he authored essentially argues that contaminated groundwater will be remediated by Mother Nature, thus saving oil companies the expense of clean-up. 

That argument is exactly the same as the one Chevron is making in Ecuador to avoid paying for the cost of a complete clean-up, Hinton noted.

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