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Trial lawyers seeking a major payday don’t often want the facts to get in the way of a good story

Date: Oct 19, 2009

And they’ll keep telling their story over and over again with more and more embellishment until someone either confronts them with the truth or pays them to stop.

Here is one of the major myths the US-based trial lawyers and environmental activist groups have spun in a naked attempt to tarnish Chevron’s reputation in the U.S. and pressure the company into an unjust settlement in the lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador:

Myth 1:  Chevron is responsible for $27 billion worth of damages to the Amazon.

The $27 billion assessment against Chevron was concocted by Richard Cabrera, a mining engineer with no experience or training in oilfield remediation work.

Cabrera was appointed by the court to assess possible environmental damage in the former Concession oilfields, if any, the cause, and remediation projects to remedy those damages.  His selection was fully supported by the Amazon Defense Coalition over the opposition of Chevron.

In addition to being unqualified for the task he was given, Cabrera ignored directions from the court and improperly expanded his work scope to invent categories of damages that have nothing to do with the issues raised by the lawsuit or with environmental remediation of the former Concession area.

Nearly 90 percent of his $27 billion figure is allocated to issues unrelated to the actual claims in the case:

  • Cabrera provided no medical records or death certificates to support his recommendation for more than $9.5 billion in compensation for “excess cancer deaths” and did not name a single victim or identify any family members as beneficiaries. He has no public health training or expertise in diagnosing the epidemiology of cancer, nor can he point to anyone on his team who does. Rather than relying on an expert, Cabrera based his cancer claims on self-serving answers to ad hoc surveys administered to the local population in secrecy by unknown individuals.
  • Cabrera also claims $1.7 billion in damages for improvement of oil infrastructure sites, which have been operated exclusively by Petroecuador since Texaco Petroleum ceased operating in 1990.  The sites are the sole property of Ecuador, and are currently in use and even being expanded by the state-owned oil company.
  • He assessed more than a billion dollars in soil remediation for sites he never visited and grossly inflated the calculation to arrive at a suggested per-pit remediation cost that is 25 times greater than the current costs for Petroecuador’s own remediation program.
  • He assessed $428 million to improve the potable water system in the Oriente and $3.2 billion for groundwater remediation even though he did not take any samples of streams, rivers, municipal water sources or drinking water wells, did nothing to assess whether other factors (such as fecal contamination) were contributing to health problems, and states in his own report that he did not have enough data to develop a groundwater remediation plan.
  • He also calls for $320 million for the creation of an animal husbandry farm to raise and release wild animals for indigenous people to hunt.

So far, Cabrera has refused to answer questions about his methodology, identify additional team members, explain their responsibilities and contributions, or produce supporting documentation, specifically regarding the survey that supports his cancer-related damage assessment.

Cabrera’s work was far from independent.

A number of indicators suggest that Cabrera worked closely with the plaintiffs’ lawyers to prepare his last report:

  • He received payments of at least $200,000 for his work from Selva Viva, an Ecuadorian company that serves as the financial and logistical intermediary for the Amazon Defense Coalition. The checks were apparently signed by Luis Yanza, legal coordinator for the Amazon Defense Coalition and general manager of Selva Viva.
  • He benefited from the assistance of members of the Amazon Defense Coalition during his field work, as demonstrated by photographs and video taken at the time, while Chevron observers were prevented from even observing Cabrera’s work.
  • He even copied sections of his $27 billion report word-for-word from observations submitted to the court by the plaintiffs’ lawyers.