Tue, 15 Jun 2010
Source: Business Wire
WASHINGTON - (Business Wire) BP’s executives will be joined by Chevron CEO John Watson as oil men on the Congressional hot seat today.
Chevron’s Watson will testify today before the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment as he faces withering criticism for the mishandling of an oil disaster in Ecuador’s Amazon that is considered far larger and more devastating than the tragic BP spill in the Gulf. Watson’s predecessor, David O’Reilly, reportedly was ousted for his mishandling of the Ecuador liability, which threatens to eat up 20% of Chevron’s market value.
Watson also has suffered recently from his ham-fisted handling of a shareholder revolt over his company’s environmental practices, has been criticized for snubbing his nose at Interior Department officials investigating Chevron’s corruption over Alaska oil and gas royalties, and recently had five prominent company critics arrested at the annual meeting when challenged about Chevron’s poor human rights record.
“Watson has shown a shockingly cavalier attitude toward human safety and environmental problems around the world,” said Maria Ramos, who monitors the company for the Rainforest Action Network (RAN).
RAN campaigners say they plan to confront Watson at the hearing today over Chevron’s various problems, including:
* Ecuador: Chevron is accused by indigenous groups of deliberately dumping more than 345 million gallons of pure crude into the rainforest when it operated a large oil concession from 1964 to 1990. The resulting disaster has devastated indigenous groups and is far larger than the BP spill in the Gulf, according to experts.
* Congressional criticism over Ecuador: Rep. James P. McGovern, the vice-chairman of the House Rules Committee, visited Ecuador in 2009 and blasted the company in a letter to President Obama. McGovern wrote: “As an American citizen, the degradation and contamination left behind by [Chevron] in a poor part of the world made me angry and ashamed… I also saw the infrastructure Texaco/Chevron created that allowed the wholesale dumping of formation water and other highly toxic materials directly into the Amazon and its waters.”
* Nigeria killings: A federal appeals court heard arguments yesterday that Chevron should stand trial yet again in U.S. federal court in San Francisco on charges it violated international law by conspiring with the Nigerian army to assault local villagers protesting its environmental practices. 2 Nigerians were killed in the action in 1998.
* Shareholders: Watson faced a veritable shareholder revolt over Ecuador at the company’s annual meeting last month. More than 25% of all shareholder votes cast defied Watson over Ecuador, representing an estimated $38 billion in shareholder value. Five shareholders who tried to challenge him on Ecuador and other human rights problems were arrested. Author Antonia Juhasz was carried out of the meeting by four police officers and held in jail for 24 hours.
* Corruption found by Interior Department: Chevron remains the only oil major to refuse to cooperate with an Interior Department probe of several energy companies over corruption related to oil and gas royalties in Alaska. A report by the Interior Department Inspector General in 2007 found Chevron employees traded sex and drugs for favors from government employees.
Watson has faced fierce criticism by shareholders for a personal conflict of interest related to a failure to do adequate due diligence over Chevron’s purchase of Texaco in 2001 for $31 billion, given that the Texaco merger has produced a potential $27 billion clean-up liability for Chevron in Ecuador. Watson oversaw the integration of the two companies at a time the lawsuit was pending in U.S. federal court.
“BP’s actions on the Gulf Coast are abhorrent, but we should not fool ourselves into thinking that BP is alone in creating a large environmental disaster,” said Ramos. “In Ecuador, Chevron and Texaco have closed their eyes for almost 50 years as thousands of people have had their lives devastated.”
Chevron has admitted to dumping more than 18.5 billion gallons of toxic waste directly into the Ecuador rainforest, abandoning more than 900 unlined toxic waste pits, and leaving a legacy of poisoned air and water that has led to an outbreak of cancer and the decimation of indigenous groups. The company claims it was given a “release” by Ecuador’s government after a limited remediation, which locals have claimed was fraudulent.
Recently, a Chevron contractor bragged that he participated in a wide-ranging fraud by Chevron in the Ecuador lawsuit to pay bribes, fake court-ordered soil samples and doctor evidence to cover up the company’s culpability, according to sworn testimony from a key witness.