Could Chevron Have a Change of Heart?

Written by Becky Tarbotton

Topics: Agribusiness, Learn, Oil

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Fabiola is a beautiful thirteen-year old girl with sparkling bright eyes and an infectious smile. As we approached her house in the village of Taracoa in Ecuador, she marched right over to us in her green t-shirt and rainbow flip flops, stuck out her hand in introduction – and shook each of ours vigorously. Her mother and grandmother followed more shyly, agreeing to sit and talk with us in the gathering dusk. This was day three of our trip to Ecuador to see first hand the impacts that Chevron’s oil extraction has had on the people and land here.

Before I arrived in Ecuador, I read about the terrible health problems that settlers and indigenous people living in the oil-affected area are experiencing. I knew about the toxic oil pits and the constant gas flaring. I knew that people were sick. But I wasn’t prepared for Fabiola. Fabiola was born with her heart on the wrong side of her body and doctors said that she would never walk. She proved them wrong on that count, but she is tiny for her age and she and her mother have had to make endless trips to doctors, sometimes traveling for days, to try and diagnose her many illnesses.

Fabiola’s grandmother moved to Taracoa twenty-three years ago, looking for land to farm. Texaco (now owned by Chevron) was already operating in the area, but the family didn’t know that the land they chose was right beside a toxic waste pit. Chevron oil waste pit in EcuadorThe oil company didn’t advertise the whereabouts of its disposal sites, and hundreds of people moved into the area to set up home, not realizing that they were settling in an area that was so profoundly polluted. Oil from the open waste pits has been seeping into groundwater and streams for decades, gradually contaminating all the potable water in an area the size of Rhode Island. Animals started to die and over time, people started falling sick at unusually high rates.

Fabiola’s mother told us that she used to tend to the cows close by their house when she was pregnant with her daughter. Most days she would spend walking around the oil pit, and drinking water from the family’s well. It smelt like crude oil, and had a constant film of oil floating on the top, but it was their only source of water. Oil residue floats on top of stream used for drinking and washing in Ecuador.Chevron/Texaco for their part assured residents of the area that the crude oil was actually good for them, encouraging people to rub it on their skin to treat arthritis. To this day Chevron claims that there is no connection between exposure to crude oil and human illness, an assertion that would be laughable if the effects were not so tragic.

Fabiola was born with severe birth defects just like many other children whose families live on the edge of Chevron’s oil sites. The company claims that they have cleaned up their mess, but one look at a ‘remediated site’ makes it abundantly clear that the so-called clean up is a cover up at best. There is very little that the residents of Taracoa can do to help the little ones like Fabiola who have already been so affected by Chevron’s legacy. Almost everyone buys their drinking and washing water these days, but money is scarce, and many can’t afford it. Their best hope of a long-terms solution lies in a court case that is being fought to hold the giant oil company accountable for cleaning up its mess once and for all, and for providing healthcare and clean water for all the many people who have suffered from Chevron/Texaco’s irresponsible waste dumping. The company has been fighting the case every step of the way. But I don’t think that any Chevron lawyer or executive who met Fabiola could fail to have a change of heart, and I hope with all of mine, that Chevron will ensure that hers is the last generation to suffer.

10 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Marsha Angus says:

    Thank you Becky for writing this moving story. I am so grateful to RAN for continuing it’s efforts to preserve our natural environment. I’m spreading your story.

  2. tom says:

    Thanks for the article. I’ve traveled to these areas as well and carried many Huaorani children with birth defects to the hospital. Many of them have died from heart problems and many suffer the effects of the gross violations of Human Rights carried out by Chevron. Please pressure Chevron (through letters or boycotts) to take responsibility for this injustice.

  3. Barbara says:

    What can we do to help? Can you give us the person to whom we can address our letters in Chevron. It sickens me that greed takes place of both Human rights and our environment. What other companies does Chevron own?

  4. Becky says:

    Yes this is such a moving issue, and the stories really bring it home, don’t they? Stay tuned – very soon the RAN Chevron campaign will be geared up and ready to involve all of you – be sure to sign-up for the RAN listserve so that you can track the campaign. And if you’re local to SF, come to Revel (), our annual fundraiser – we’ll be honoring two very important activists from Ecuador.

  5. Very eye opening experience, now if everyone in the corporation was to go out and see the destruction they are creating first hand this will do and change a lot of what they do.

  6. Daniel says:

    Thanks for the article Becky, it is good to see you are creating awareness of this issue. I like tom above have also worked in this area although not so close to cheverons sites to see the direct effects of them i lived and worked in an area of pristine rainforest, the indigenous owners of which were at the time i left (earlier this year) being pressured by the government and the national oil company to open it up for oil exploration. I hae recently heard that this particular part of the forest was not opened up by the oil company on grounds of cost, its protected status meant that a higher price needed to be payed by the oil company to extract the oil, which is good news for now, btu when oil prices rise further as they will it will become economical for them again and they will be back. Also it was not good news for the forest directly adjasent to the one i was living in (basicly the same forest but a tract owned by the shuar rather than the Quechwa) since this was not protected the price of extraction was cheaper and so it is the rainforest is being destroyed, one of the most stuningly beautiful, interesting, important,ancient and diverse celebrations of life, for a stinking poisonous black liquid. I dont understand why every one can not see this even the oil companies we are all human and surely it is plainly obvious which of the two is better.
    OK i will finish there i could go on and on but i guess you get my point.
    Thanks again for what you guys are doing at RAN.

  7. patti says:

    Watch “CRUDE” and learn more or contribute to RAN to help buy rainwater collection barrels for the people to put on their houses.

  8. cheryl erb says:

    This is outrageous that any company, esp. a large wealthy oil co., would neglect its clean-up responsibilities and deliberately let local residents get sick and have medical problems. Fabriola’s heart being on the wrong side of her body is a rarity, but unfortunately that’s not her only medical problem. For her mother and other families to have to drink water with oil on the top, etc. is a horrendous thought. The cost of human life, esp. in children, is NOT worth any amount of profit that Chevron makes.

    Thank you, Cheryl Erb

    Who at Chevron can we pressure to clean-up their mess.

  9. Herbert Escher says:

    Chevron people should be made to live there and drink the water themselves. If it’s good for others, it might be good for them too.

  10. Posted on the World Wide Advocacy Site for Network Members to read, take action and crosspost.
    Chevron Texaco continues to demonstrate their lack of social consciousness within defined boundaries of acceptability. Telling the Ecuadorian people to rub crude oil on their skin to help with arthritic pain is just one of many examples. Chevron Texaco has placed their company,their philosophy and their actions in the worldwide arena of severe backlash, boycotts with pursuant action in criminal courts both human and environmental.

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