Tropical rainforests, pristine rivers and natural animal habitats used to be the image of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Nowadays, this picture looks very different. The government of Ecuador filed a lawsuit, claiming energy giant, Chevron, polluted their rainforests over two decades ago. Documentary filmmaker, Joe Berlinger, then created a popular documentary in 2009 showing Chevron to be guilty, leaving little room for interpretation.
The documentary cast Chevron in a negative light, eliminating footage of meetings between Ecuadorian lawyers (who were filmed admitting they were just after Chevron’s money). “I find it sad that there appears to be loss and suffering going on, yet the search for truth in this matter, which may lead to fixing or mitigating the problem, seems to have been ruined by greed, corruption and dishonesty on both sides of the issue,” said David Trevas, an engineer for Cooper Power Systems with over 20 years of experience and great familiarity with both the documentary and Chevron’s work.
Berlinger’s contentious documentary Crude (revolving around the environmental lawsuit) went viral and gathered much attention upon its release. The18-year-long legal battle involving Chevron has persisted in courts, as Ecuador claims Texaco (later bought by Chevron) had polluted the Amazon rainforest by dumping massive amounts of oil waste in the 1970s and 1980s. Ecuador claimed it would take $27.3 billion to clean up the damage that had affected 30,000 Ecuadorians.
The controversial subject matter of Berlinger’s documentary (and trailer) certainly led to an increase in attention on many online platforms, such as YouTube. However, a second reason as to why so many took an interest in the documentary was due to the fact that Berlinger became entangled in the lawsuit himself.
In 2010, the courts ordered Berlinger hand over 600 hours of film outtakes to Chevron (the oil company believed that this footage could be used as evidence to help win its case, as it allegedly showed much corruption on behalf of the Ecuadorian officials and lawyers involved in the case). Berlinger argued that this ruling violated his rights as a journalist, yet the courts did not agree.
Despite its portrayal in the documentary, in reality, Chevron may have simply inherited responsibility for the oil dumping in Ecuador after purchasing Texaco. “Chevron is guilty by association. During the purchase, Chevron should have uncovered documents or reports of these types of vulnerabilities. Every oil company has done it, yet the only difference is to what extent,” said engineer K, who is currently working in the oil and gas industry (and who wishes to remain anonymous, as one of his clients is Chevron).
Others believe both Chevron and Ecuador should be equally considered at fault. “Around the world, almost all of the governments in the oil-rich regions are corrupt, and the oil companies just want to make more money. They don’t care about the local people and they don’t care about the environment,” said civil and structural engineer Q, who has been working in the oil and gas industry for over 10 years, and who also does work for Chevron.
Despite Crude’s rise to fame and significant online presence, Chevron’s reputation may not have been harmed. “Though the documentary was viewed by many people, I do not think Chevron’s image has been damaged. I think of Chevron as having some of the toughest safety guidelines out there. I worked in the field on drilling rigs for about a year and the certifications I needed to be on a Chevron rig were much more than others. But, this is said after the fact – most safety regulations come into play and are enforced after a disaster,” said engineer K.
In the end, it is no surprise that Crude was created about such an intense environmental lawsuit involving a powerful oil player, and gained worldwide attention as a result. “This is routine business in this modern world. Somebody wants to profit from the lawsuit against big companies like Chevron hoping to get some money, and somebody wants to get famous for making such a documentary,” said engineer Q.
**Two engineers, referred to as “K” and “Q” within this article, wish to remain anonymous as they do work for Chevron.