Above the Fold - Special: Amazonian Chernobyl

For over three decades, energy giant Chevron dumped 16 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into the rainforests of Amazon. Twenty years ago, Steven Donziger and 30,000 Ecuadorians fought back and won. But little has changed.

  • Kaushik Ravibaskar
  • Wed Nov 03 2021 3 mins read


    On All Ends

    Part 1: The Dark

    Chevron's public relations was in a flurry last week.

    On 28th October, they sent an environmental attorney to prison.

    10 years ago, the attorney, Steven Donziger successfully sued Chevron for USD 9.5 billion.

    On the same day, an independent expert report determined that Chevron owes USD 50 billion in global environmental damages.

    70 ongoing cases in 31 countries against Chevron, only 0.006% ($286-million) in fines, court judgements, and settlements have been paid. The company still owes another $50.5-billion in total globally.png

    Amazonian Chernobyl

    Over three decades of drilling in the Amazon, American energy giant Chevron deliberately dumped more than 16 billion gallons of toxic wastewater and 17 million gallons of crude oil into the rainforest.

    This is the biggest oil-related disaster in history; a dumping ground twice the size of Delhi.


    Steven Donziger first visited Ecuador in 1993, and came back horrified.

    Industrial contamination had inflicted local tribes with mouth, stomach, and uterine cancers, respiratory illnesses, birth defects and spontaneous miscarriages.

    Donziger represented over 30,000 farmers and indigenous Ecuadorians in a case against Chevron and won. In 2011, Chevron was found guilty and ordered to pay USD 18 billion. They refused to accept the decision.

    Judge, Jury and Executioner.

    Chevron loves to attack lawyers who have defended the victims of their atrocities.

    They've never quite succeeded like this before.

    In the world's first case of corporate prosecution, Chevron had environmental attorney Steven Donziger sentenced to prison.

    His courtroom was straight out of dystopian fantasy.

    It began with a civil RICO lawsuit, accusing him of racketeering. Chevron has long tried to portray Donziger as a fraud, trying to extort them. From an internal memo;

    They tried suing them for USD 60 billion in damages but stopped when they realised this would need a jury. Over the past ten years, a thousand-strong Chevron legal has aimed its guns at Donziger.

    They've had him disbarred, frozen his bank accounts, slapped him with millions in fines, denied him a jury, forced him to wear a 24-hour ankle monitor, and placed him on house arrest for over 800 days – four times the maximum allowed sentence.

    On October 27, 2021, they had him thrown into federal prison.

    The Question

    We normally restrain ourselves to news about entrepreneurship, and topics far milder on scale.

    But this is important.

    For this year's E-Cell Campaign on Sustainable Entrepreneurship – whose plenary session you can watch here – we decided to explore all ends of environmental impact.

    This is part one, where we look at the darkest end. On the terrible impacts that a heartless corporate can do on the world, and the systems that protect them.

    This case sets a terrible precedent for attorneys and activists seeking to hold oil companies liable for pollution. Chevron is pursuing this case—to the benefit of the entire fossil fuel industry—to dissuade future litigation that may call them to account for their role in climate change.

    This week, we have no questions. Only admiration for the bravery of Steven Donziger.

    Above the Fold is E-Cell's newsletter, offering a short glimpse into the entrepreneurial world

    Stay tuned for our next edition on Wednesday, or join our mailing list

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