22 Dec, 2011

New Chevron Fraud in Ecuador as Company Used Secret Lab to Hide Dirty Soil Samples from Court, Say Documents & the Amazon Defense Coalition


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, said a representative of the Amazon Defense Coalition.


The role of the NewFields lab, 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 third parties 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 it was usually Chevron’s “clean” soil samples that 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.


Lawyers for the rainforest communities planned to submit 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.


U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael E. Hagarty in August 2011, ordered the new documents 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 most of the 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.


“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.



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