What Is the True Cost of Chevron?

Coalition of Environmental Groups Publishes Alternative Annual Report Describing Widespread Abuses by Chevron
Chevwrong%20logo.jpgWe’ve all seen the Chevron “Human Energy” advertisements with the concerned scientist and soothing music reassuring us that the big oil giant is on the case. Judging from the frequency of the ads, you’d expect Chevron is devoting huge amounts of time and money working on alternative energy solutions, while at the same time operating responsibly in regards to the environment and human rights. But a coalition of 11 watchdog groups, called The True Cost of Chevron, suggest the truth of Chevron’s business operations is far different.
The group developed and released an “Alternative Annual Report” last week, just ahead of Chevron’s shareholder meeting and the company’s announcement that 2008 was the most profitable year in their history. The alternative report tells shareholders more about the hidden and under-reported costs of these profits. It brings together stories from communities across the world that are all directly affected by and in struggle against Chevron’s operations. The group also organized protests in front of Chevron’s San Ramon, California headquarters on the day of the shareholder’s meeting last week.

Some excerpts from the Alternative Annual Report:
Chevron has refused to acknowledge the widespread human rights abuses caused by its Yadana project and the destructive effects that revenue from the project has had in Burma.
In Canada, Chevron has made a heavy investment in pursuit of “frontier hydrocarbons” from the Canadian tar sands. The toxic burden on communities near the tar sands is already enormous. In addition to direct human exposure, oil contamination in the local watershed has led to arsenic in moose meat – a dietary staple for First Nations peoples – up to 33 times acceptable levels. Drinking water has also been contaminated.
While drilling in the Ecuadorian Amazon from 1964 to 1990, Texaco – which merged with Chevron in 2001 – deliberately dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater, spilled roughly 17 million gallons of crude oil, and left hazardous waste in hundreds of open pits dug out of the forest floor.
Chevron continues to employ and pay the notoriously brutal Nigerian military to provide it with security services.
In 2007, Chevron paid $30 million to settle charges brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it had paid illegal kickbacks to the Hussein regime to win its Iraqi marketing contracts, after it was revealed that Hussein had established a worldwide network of oil companies and countries that secretly helped Iraq generate about $11 billion in illegal income from oil sales.


The surrounding populations began to suffer greatly from an unprecedented variety of illnesses upon development of the [oil] fields, including respiratory illnesses, blood illnesses, cardiovascular illnesses, and high levels of stillborn babies, all of which medical specialists have determined to be directly related to the oil industry.

Chevron’s Record on Alternative Energy

Not surprisingly, it’s very difficult to find any hard data in Chevron’s annual report on actual R&D spending for alternative energy solutions. Based on The True Cost of Chevron’s extensive search through the company’s 10-k and other SEC filings, the answer seems to be “not much.” The group’s best guess is slightly less than 3% of their capital and exploratory budget in 2008, or about $625m. Put this in the context of Chevron’s record profits in 2008 $23.9 billion, and you would have to label Chevron’s “Human Energy” ads as a whole lot of greenwashing.
Is Big Oil Doing its Part?
Sure, the big oil companies and the consumer share the responsibility for the environmental and social consequences of our oil dependence. We generate the demand, and they provide the supply, but shouldn’t we share in addressing these issues? So much attention is now focused on consumers reducing their demand, but according to groups like the True Cost of Chevron, big oil companies are doing very little to develop the supply in a more responsible manner? Isn’t it time they did their part?

Jim Witkin is a writer and researcher based in Silicon Valley focused on business, technology and the environment. His work has been featured in the New York Times and Guardian newspapers on topics that include: sustainable business practices, clean tech, the environment and next generation transportation technologies. He holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School. Contact him at jameswitkin@gmail.com

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