The problem with documentaries – especially issue documentaries – is that they go over the top, often mistaking haranguing for journalism (think Michael Moore). It is possible to be simultaneously an advocate and a journalist, but it is exceedingly difficult. So I was happy to find that Crude – a 2009 documentary on petroleum contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon – manages to pull it off.
The film follows a legal team bringing a lawsuit against Chevron for environmental contamination in the Amazon dating back to the 1960s. The class-action lawsuit was filed in 1993 on behalf of 30,000 Ecuadoreans, and there has not yet been any ruling. For all the gory details, Vanity Fair published a comprehensive article on the battle in 2007.
Though it’s a pretty shocking case of a corporation hurting people in order to make money, the film does a great job presenting the arguments on both sides. Chevron’s arguments in its defense seems to go like this:
- We cleaned everything up.
- Even if we didn’t clean everything up, it’s not increasing cancer rates.
- Even if it is increasing cancer rates, blame the State oil company that took over operations in 1992.
- Even if the pollution predates 1992, Chevron (then Texaco) was operating as part of a consortium with the State oil company, so blame them too.
There’s got to be some Latin term to describe this cascading logical fallacy (if you cleaned everything up, why even bother arguing 2, 3, and 4?), but Chevron does have a point about the State oil company – PetroEcuador – and the State in general. Where was the Ecuadorian government when all this was happening?
Not to say that this should let Chevron off the hook. Certainly not. But the majority of the world’s oil is extracted by State-owned oil companies, especially in Latin America (PetroEcuador, PdVSA, Pemex). So much the worse considering that the State and its dependencies are supposed to be serving the people. They should be next to the chopping block.
Anyway, here’s a good “60 Minutes” piece on the Chevron controversy: