Blog-A-Thon Entry 2: Oil Pollution and Justice in the Amazon

Our second Blog-A-Thon entry comes from Mackenzie Welch, a Gilman
Scholar from Swarthmore College studying
abroad in Quito, Ecuador. Follow her on her journey as she discovers how our need for oil 
connects us to people and places around the world. 

 

BAT - Article 1 - Oil - Photo 1.jpg

In the United States, and all over the world, we use crude oil, or
petroleum, to make all sorts of things. We refine the oil we drill to make
petrol (diesel) and gasoline to power our various modes of
transportation, machinery and factories. We refine the oil we drill to make plastics
and chemicals for make-up, lotions and other everyday items. All of this has a
tremendous effect on your quality of life, whether you know it or not.

 

 

Right
now, we rely on oil to keep our society going because we haven’t worked very hard
to develop other sources of renewable energy, like using the sun or wind to
generate electric power. To get the oil for cars and other things, we have to
drill big tubes into the ground and take it out. Sometimes, drilling can be
done well and not pollute the environment too badly. (It is never good to drill
a hole into the Earth if it can be helped!) Many times, there are accidents and
large amounts of oil are spilled. Oil is toxic, meaning if you drink it or are
exposed to it for a long time, you will get very, very sick.

As
I travel around Ecuador, I wanted to share a very special story with you
guys. It starts a long time ago in 1964, which is 28 years before I was even
born! In 1964, an oil company called Texaco came to the Amazon rainforest and
began to drill for oil. The area in which they were drilling was really big,
about the size of Rhode Island.

When
Texaco arrived in the Amazon, the area was completely covered in rainforest.
There weren’t any roads, electricity, or telephones. There were also people
living in the rainforest when Texaco arrived. The indigenous people used canoes
on the river instead of roads, cooked their food over fires, and lived near one
another so they didn’t need telephones. They lived entirely off of what they
could get from the jungle: wood for houses and canoes, fish and jungle animals
for eating, and water from the river to drink.

When
the oil company Texaco came, the indigenous people didn’t know what was
happening. Because the indigenous people didn’t know about the dangers of oil
pollution and Texaco didn’t think they would get caught, Texaco broke a lot of
rules and laws on environmental protection to save money. What does that mean?
It means that Texaco dumped over 18.5 billion gallons of waste water, the dirty
and polluted water used to make oil, into the rainforest. That means that they
were dumping about 4 million gallons of this water into the Amazon every single
day! 

BAT - Article 1 - Oil - Photo 2.jpg

Can
you image dumping 4 million gallons of milk onto the streets of New York City
every morning before you went to school? That was how much waste water was
dumped into the Amazon every day. The problem in the Amazon was even bigger than
that, because instead of milk, Texaco was dumping a toxic chemical into the
water that people drank!

Because
of this, animals and fish in the Amazon started dying. People who drank the
water from the river started getting sick and even getting cancer because of
the oil. The indigenous people used the river for water, food and even washing
clothes, so it became really hard to live. Because of this, they sued Texaco for all of the pollution.

This
summer, the indigenous people from the Amazon won the case! That means that the
30,000 people who sued Texaco, (now Chevron), won
money to help fix the environment and clean up the oil. They also will
get money to help pay for medical bills and Cancer treatment. Can you guess how
much money all of that costs? The answer is $19 billion dollars!  

Right
now, I am working for the group of lawyers in Ecuador who won the case, trying
to make sure that all of the families in the Amazon get the money to clean up
their neighborhoods and get rid of the oil. It is a really exciting job and I
even visited some of the places where Texaco, (now Chevron), dumped
18 billion gallons of toxic waste water and spilled 17 million gallons of oil. I am
excited that the families are getting the justice they deserve.

You can also check out http://chevrontoxico.com/ for more information.

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