How Trudie Styler Is Winning Hearts and Minds at ... Chevron?

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

As Joe Berlinger's Crude continues to rack up favorable reviews, a captivating email back-and-forth has been revealed between Trudie Styler and executives at Chevron, the oil giant which has been facing increasing criticism for neglecting to clean up more than 1,000 contaminated sites in Ecuador.

Several weeks ago, Styler made an offer to buy tickets to Crude for all Chevron employees, saying that:

Many people will assume that you and I must be on different sides of the fence on this issue. But I don't believe that. I'm willing to bet that you and I, and all of your colleagues, agree that everyone has the fundamental right to the life-supporting elements of clean air and clean water.

Chevron struck back the following week, applauding Styler's "commitment to provide the Ecuadorian people with access to clean water and a better quality of life," before stating:

What is being missed, even by well-intentioned people like Ms. Styler, is that the responsibility for the lack of potable water, insufficient access to proper health care, and malnutrition now affecting the people of the Oriente lies squarely with the government of Ecuador, which has failed to properly address these serious challenges for nearly two decades.

Earlier this month, Styler wrote once again to Chevron's rank-and-file. Here's her letter in full:

Dear friends,

Thank you for your messages of support and for taking the time to watch the film Crude.

I am aware that you received an email from Chevron executives last week in response to my invitation. It's encouraging that the management of your company recognizes that the people of the Oriente in Ecuador are enduring severe assaults on their health. At the same time, I'm dismayed to read that management will not take any responsibility for the mess that has been left behind.

I understand that in the middle of a highly public and contentious lawsuit it can be difficult for Chevron's executives to speak candidly. However, last week's note was particularly disappointing, as your company's leadership passed on an opportunity for reconciliation. I continue to believe Chevron can do the right thing in Ecuador, but only when it acknowledges the mistakes the company inherited when it acquired Texaco.

Let me highlight three very simple points for your consideration:

• In last week's letter, Chevron's management wrote, "When Texaco left Ecuador nearly two decades ago, it did so only after having responsibly cleaned up its share of oil operations..." If you were to witness what I have seen, you would know this just isn't true. During its time in Ecuador, Texaco built more than 900 unlined waste pits throughout the Amazon region. In judicial inspections of 102 of these sites, 100% of them - each and every one - were found to be contaminated. In fact, the court expert found that even those sites that Chevron's management says were remediated are as contaminated as those that were never touched.

• As you know, when oil is extracted it has two components, the marketable crude and waste waters, which are often highly toxic. The common practice for decades has been to re-inject the toxic waste waters into underground wells, to avoid extensive contamination of the local water and soil. Texaco never did this in Ecuador, despite re-injecting waste waters at other operations around the world during the same time period and even owning a patent on the technology. Billions of gallons of these poisons were thus dumped into waterways over more than two decades. It is unethical to have one set of practices in countries with close environmental scrutiny, and an entirely different standard when no one is watching.

• Confronting the burden of years of contamination, Chevron's management asserted in its letter last week that, "There is no scientific or medical evidence to support claims of increased cancer risk in the region." Forgive me, but that is a bold and irresponsible statement. If Mr. O'Reilly ever visited families in the area, he'd have more evidence than he'd care to see. A team of technical professionals led by an independent expert appointed by the court has estimated 1401 cancer deaths have been caused by contamination and has confirmed a significant correlation between a series of other adverse health impacts and proximity to the contaminated areas. Other peer-reviewed scientific studies show elevated rates of sudden miscarriages, genetic disorders, and elevated instances of childhood leukemia linked to oil contamination regionally. You can view one of the peer-reviewed studies for yourself at:

Here's why I am writing to you. I do not wish to engage in a he-said, she-said exchange with your company's executives, certainly not over email! However, it's important that you hear an independent account of what is really happening in Ecuador. I sincerely believe that Chevron could set a model for corporate responsibility for the entire world, but only if it takes a fresh look at a long-standing problem.

I understand your company has a new CEO, John Watson, coming on board next year. Perhaps this presents an historic opportunity to open up a new line of dialogue so we can work together to help alleviate the suffering of Ecuador's people. In the meantime, please continue to lend us your support. Thank you.

Trudie Styler