Impact of oil development on the
peoples of the Oriente

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Photo courtesy of The Advocacy Project


Production methods

In the 18 years that Texaco operated in Ecuador, it funneled approximately 1.4 billion barrels of crude oil out of the Amazon from over 300 wells. Texaco admittedly bypassed the industry standard technique – at least in the U.S. and other developed nations – of “reinsertion” of production water, in which contaminated water and toxic wastes from refined oil are reinjected deep into the ground. Instead, the company pumped production water into unlined pits dug into the soil, from where it seeped into forests and rivers – or simply dumped it there directly. Texaco officials and attorneys claim the company followed all regulations and standards required by the government of Ecuador. Critics contend that since there had been no prior oil industry, no laws existed, nor were any later enforced – but that Texaco should have operated responsibly nonetheless.

According to Lippman, Texaco released over 4 million gallons of waste water per day – 20 billion gallons total – into the environment. In a lawsuit filed by representatives for over 30,000 indigenous people of the Oriente, attorneys claimed that the company saved $3 to $4 per barrel by not reinserting production water, bringing close to $6 billion over 18 years in additional profits. Frequent oil spills along the company's trans-national SOTE pipeline totaled an estimated 16.8 million gallons during that time, an amount greater than the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

Health effects

In areas affected by sub-standard production methods, health workers have linked heavy metals and hydrocarbons that leaked from oil waste pits to high rates of spontaneous abortion, neurological disorders, birth defects and cancer. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – so toxic that a single drop is forbidden to be emitted in any river or stream in the U.S. – were among the carcinogenic by-products released. The Committee for the Defense of the Amazon stated that tests for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons revealed levels as high as one part per 100 in some areas .

A study completed in 2000 by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine assessed concentration levels of hydrocarbons in rivers and streams used for drinking water by the community of San Carlos. The town is located near a former Texaco pumping station and 30 functioning oil wells. The results showed levels as high as 288 times greater than that deemed acceptable by European standards. Based upon the known effects of oil on humans and animals, the study linked oil production in the area to extremely high incidences of cancer in the population. For instance, the researchers found the risks of developing rare cancers of the larynx and bile duct were 30 and 18 times the expected rate, respectively.


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© 2003 Matt Levitch