Firm is set for central role in Israeli gas fields

International environmental groups unite to warn Israel against Chevron

US expert researching company’s global record finds dozens of cases of litigation; Energy Ministry: ‘We don’t act on ‘gossip,’ we rely on US Energy Ministry support for Chevron

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

FILE - In this July 30, 2006 file photo, Mariana Jimenez walks on her farm where burst oil pipes contaminated her land earlier in the month near Lago Agrio, in Ecuador's Amazon region. Late Tuesday, July 10, 2018, Ecuador's highest court upheld a $9.5 billion judgment against oil giant Chevron for decades of rainforest damage that harmed indigenous people.  (AP Photo/Lou Dematteis, File)
FILE - In this July 30, 2006 file photo, Mariana Jimenez walks on her farm where burst oil pipes contaminated her land earlier in the month near Lago Agrio, in Ecuador's Amazon region. Late Tuesday, July 10, 2018, Ecuador's highest court upheld a $9.5 billion judgment against oil giant Chevron for decades of rainforest damage that harmed indigenous people. (AP Photo/Lou Dematteis, File)

The Chevron oil and gas company has left a trail of environmental and humanitarian disaster around the world, an environmental anthropologist told a Knesset committee on Tuesday after examining 31 countries where the US conglomerate has been active.

Nan Marie Greer, a former adjunct professor for the University of Hawaii and University of Redlands, and executive director of Alistar International, an organization working for indigenous rights around the world, said that during a month’s research on the subject, she had found 65 cases of litigation against Chevron in all 31 countries that she surveyed.

In July, Chevron announced that it had entered into a definitive agreement with Texas-based Noble Energy, which operates Israel’s two biggest natural gas fields, to buy all outstanding shares in an all-stock transaction valued at $5 billion. The move was welcomed by Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz.

Noble Energy shareholders in New York, Colorado and Delaware are trying to delay a vote on the deal, saying they have not been given full documentation.

Nevertheless, the Energy Ministry’s Petroleum Council is expected to discuss and approve the deal in principle on September 14. The council does not publish protocols, only recommendations.

Chevron declined an invitation to speak at the meeting.

Addressing the debate via Zoom from California, Nan Greer said that of the 65 cases of litigation she had identified against Chevron, 71% involved “grave violations of rights to land, life, and safety against local populations.” All were being litigated, or had been litigated, “with Chevron refusing to deal with the concerns of those affected”; 83% had yet to produce a settlement, “largely due to Chevron’s decision to spend funds on law firms to fight the claims”; and 65% involved “documented claims of severe human rights abuses, including torture, forced labor/slavery, rape, murder, and even genocide.” She had documents for all of the legal actions.

In one of several examples given, Greer said that in Nigeria, “massive deposits of crude oil litter canal wetlands of multiple indigenous groups in the Niger Delta still to this day, with over 500,000 people losing life, livelihoods, homes, land, and food…. With cases extending from the 1960s through the 2000s, each group found Chevron out-litigating them. Chevron continues poisoning their lands with well and drill fires, five documented in the last year alone.”

Activists from Nigeria and Ecuador attended the meeting but shortage of time prevented them from testifying. The Nigerians submitted a video clip.

“Now, today, in both Richmond and Kern County of Chevron’s own state in the US, communities are imploring Chevron to do the right thing, to clean up their recent spills and pollution in their areas,” Greer went on. “Both cases have been locked in litigation for years.”

Greer advised Israel to note that Chevron currently had two severe cases of “cracks and blowouts” in natural gas installations. In one of the cases, Chevron only closed a rig on Australia’s Barrow Island last month when the government instructed it to do so, after repeated petitioning by workers.

“While this research is not exhaustive, there is sufficient evidence readily available to the public that provides a disgusting and shocking picture of a company refusing to comply with social, environmental, and taxpaying responsibilities — a company that litigates until silence from its victims, refusing legal compliance at all costs. I found this approach repeated in country after country,” Greer said.

“The evidence of Chevron’s extensive record of non-compliance, which we ask this committee to review, should be of concern to all Israeli citizens and its neighbors,” she added. “At a minimum, it raises serious questions that in my view should be addressed by authorities before Israel can responsibly make an informed decision about whether to approve Chevron’s purchase of vital national energy assets.”

Greenpeace Israel director Yonatan Aikhenbaum. (Courtesy)

Paz y Miño, associate director of the Amazon Watch nonprofit, charged, “They move their assets from one country to another and when sued in that country spend billions fighting legally rather than clean up. This has happened time and again. I have been to many of these places and met the people who have been harmed. This is the strategy wherever they operate.”

Yonatan Aikhenbaum of Greenpeace Israel told the committee that Chevron, which he said invests $30 million dollars annually in lobbying, saw Israel merely as a stepping stone to the European market, suggesting that it will want to develop additional oil and gas fields in Israel, Cyprus and elsewhere in the region. This would form part of a geopolitical thrust by the US to replace Russia as the main supplier of gas to Europe, bringing tension to the Middle East, holding Europe back from its renewable energy goals and earning massive profits for Chevron, but leaving little for the Israeli public. “It’s not in our interest for Chevron to form such a strong part of our bilateral relations with the US,” he warned.

Expressing disappointment that the Energy Ministry had not sent somebody more senior, committee chairwoman Miki Haimovich (Blue and White) asked Ilan Nissim of the ministry’s natural resources administration whether he was familiar with the testimonies given.

Ilan Nissim, head of environment at the Energy Ministry’s natural resources administration, addresses the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee on September 8, 2020. (Screenshot)

He replied that decisions were made according to fact and not “gossip,” and asserted that no facts had been brought to him. “If I turn to my counterpart in the US and ask him about Chevron and he says it’s a large and respectable company, from my point of view it’s enough,” he said.

Haimovich retorted, “The environmental organizations turned to you and you didn’t even reply to their request.”

Nissim acknowledged that nonprofit Zalul had approached him, but said the approach came at a “too early” stage. “Chevron is known and respected in the world and we can’t besmirch it because of some report in a newspaper,” he said.

“I don’t understand how you work,” Haimovich shot back. “Did you go and check all the reports in the world? You represent us, the citizens of Israel. Doesn’t it interest you to know what happened in places where there was pollution, and people were not only not compensated but also their place wasn’t cleaned up? Doesn’t it concern you what might happen if a catastrophe happens on Dor beach [close to the Leviathan processing rig in northern Israel] and with whom we’ll have to deal?”

Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Commitee chairmwoman Miki Haimovich, September 8, 2020, (Courtesty)

Asked whether the Energy Ministry had requested any investigation into Chevron-related pollution, Nissim said it had asked Chevron to provide a report on its environmental past, which had not yet been received.

“So next week, you’re going to discuss approving the deal and you haven’t checked the details yet?” Haimovich asked, with the committee’s legal advisor chipping in that this raised a “red flag.”

Noting that Chevron had chosen not to appear before the committee, Haimovich said she would forward the protocol of the meeting to the Petroleum Council, recommending that its members delay a decision “unless they are convinced that all the information presented to this committee is not correct, or is ‘gossip,’ as Ilan Nissim said.” She demanded that Chevron’s environmental report be made public in advance of the Petroleum Council meeting, that the council’s deliberations on the issue be made public and that full details about Chevron’s insurance commitment be provided. Nissim told the committee that like Noble, Chevron would be expected to deposit a $100 million guarantee.

Yosef Abramowitz and Maya Jacobs at the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, September 8, 2020. (Scfeenshot)

Solar entrepreneur Yosef Abramowitz, who, together with Zalul director Maya Jacobs, first brought the issue to the committee’s attention in July, said at the Tuesday meeting that the government had to probe deeper before releasing resources that belonged to the public.

Not present at the committee meeting was Steve Donziger, a New York lawyer who secured a $9.5 billion judgment against the company in an Ecuadorian court in 2011 for decades of rain forest damage that harmed indigenous people. Since then, according to his supporters, Donziger has been persecuted by Chevron.

In 2014, the US District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that the Ecuadorian judgment was the product of fraud and racketeering, finding it unenforceable.

Lawyer Steven Donziger, right, speaks to Huaorani women during this first day of the trial against Chevron-Texaco, in Lago Agrio, on October 21, 2003. A decade after Texaco pulled out of the Amazon jungle, the US petroleum giant went on trial in a lawsuit filed on behalf of 30,000 poor Ecuadoreans who say the company’s 20 years of drilling poisoned their homeland. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Donziger, who is under house arrest in New York, told The Times of Israel after the Knesset meeting that it was probably the first time that the global environmental movement had tried to prevent a fossil fuel company from doing business in a third country.

“That Ecuadorians, Americans and Nigerians came together in Israel marks an important moment in the global environment movement,” he said. “Today imposed a measure of accountability on Chevron. From now on, they will have to take environmental groups into account when they try to do deals with governments.”

Asked for comment on the allegations regarding various countries, Chevron responded by focusing on the Ecuador case. A spokesman said, “The US court system held the judgment against Chevron in Ecuador was product of fraud and racketeering, finding it unenforceable in the United States. The courts found Steven Donziger — the lead lawyer on the case — violated the US racketeering statute (RICO) by committing extortion, wire fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations. An international tribunal in The Hague, in a unanimous ruling — including an arbitrator appointed by the government of Ecuador – found that the Ecuadorian judgement against Chevron was procured through fraud, bribery and corruption and should not be enforced anywhere in the world and confirmed after completing a $40-million environmental remediation program approved by the Ecuadorian government, Chevron was released from all the environmental claims on which the fraudulent Ecuadorian judgment is based. You can get more information on the Ecuador case here and on Chevron’s environmental stewardship here.”

Donziger disputes the US and Hague decisions.

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