EnCana chief’s legacy far from flawless Gwyn Morgan retires and leaves an environmental disaster by Jeremy Klaszus, Jan 19, 2006, Fast Forward’s weekly, Calgary Viewpoint, Vot. 11 #06
When Gwyn Morgan announced last October that he was stepping down as CEO of EnCana Corporation after a decade at the helm of the company and its pre-merger predecessor, the Alberta Energy Company, the news was plastered all over the front pages of newspapers in Calgary.
But the way the media told it, you would have thought Jesus Christ had announced he was stepping down from the right hand of God.
The Calgary Herald, in particular, was shameless in its worship. “EnCana chief lauded as flawless builder,” sang one headline. In an editorial published after his retirement announcement, the Herald described Morgan as a “forward-thinking CEO” and “Type-A overachiever” with “principled leadership qualities,” and suggested that Morgan, a staunch conservative, would be a suitable replacement for Premier Ralph Klein after he steps down.
Noticeably absent in this shower of praise was any mention of Ecuador, where EnCana operated for more than five years before selling its operations in 2005. During that time, and under Morgan’s leadership, EnCana reportedly leaked crude oil into groundwater and rivers where it was operating, mucking up the water and poisoning the fish people rely on for food. At the same time, cancer, miscarriages and skin sores increased among the local population. Ecuadorians also accused the company of allowing the military to use its airstrips to bully and harass protesters who tried to block the company’s activity.
The Ecuador story gets even worse. EnCana was the largest shareholder in the Oleoducto de Crudos Pesados (OCP), a consortium of companies that built a 500-kilometre pipeline that cut through sensitive Amazonian ecosystems and “protected” areas (the Ecuador government doesn’t do a very good job of protecting their protected areas from oil exploitation). The pipeline project was an ethical failure and an environmental nightmare – environmental groups reported that an existing pipeline ruptured during OCP construction, spilling more than 10,000 barrels of oil into the river that supplies the capital city, Quito, with its water. The banks financing the OCP project had required that the pipeline meet the World Bank’s environmental and social standards, but an independent report conducted by Robert Goodland, former chief of the environmental department of the World Bank, found the OCP fell miserably short on all four of the Bank’s applicable policies. Goodland found the project’s environmental impact assessment was completed only after the route was finalized, undermining the entire assessment and causing “major risks to the Republic of Ecuador.” As well, the report said OCP had informed locals about decisions that had already been made instead of consulting with them in advance, as World Bank policy required. “If affected people feel they have not been consulted before the critical decisions were taken, they rightly conclude that the presentation is a mockery,” said the report.
Goodland would later observe: “OCP dramatically put Ecuador on the map as a place where big oil helps trample on fragile democratic processes, cuts corners (and) puts oil above people in importance.”
I am not sure what exactly Morgan’s devotees mean when they talk about “principled leadership qualities,” but the above information calls into question Morgan’s supposed flawlessness. The story coming from independent voices and landowners in Ecuador is very different than the one manufactured by the company’s public relations machine and dutifully parroted by the corporate media here in Calgary.
Unfortunately, the people of Ecuador have no way of taking EnCana or Morgan to account, and Canada’s legal system doesn’t hold corporations, never mind CEOs, responsible for environmental or human rights abuses committed abroad.
And when activists try to get an explanation from the company, they are evaded and treated as crazies.
The company had its most recent chance to offer an explanation last November, when a documentary about the company’s negative impacts in Ecuador was screened in Calgary. Not surprisingly, EnCana refused the invitation to send a company representative for the panel discussion following the screening. Perhaps Morgan was busy that night preparing the speech he delivered at a Fraser Institute gathering in December. In that speech, he purported to get to the root causes of societal problems in Canada. To describe his diatribe as “right-wing” or “free market” would be generous euphemism. Morgan began by affirming the fundamentalist dogmas of the Fraser Institute (“if it matters, measure it”), and went on to condemn socialist ideas and ridicule the plight of the poor in our society.
Many Canadians, he lamented, still don’t understand “that ultimately the success of any society is dependent upon those who try harder achieving better rewards than those who don’t.” By this twisted standard, Morgan is an upstanding citizen who deserves all the glory he’s getting since he’s worked hard and received his rewards. But the picture of his leadership looks different when it’s not viewed solely through the lens of a capitalist ideology that reduces people to expendable economic units. If one takes a more compassionate and generous view of society, there is much for him to answer for. Morgan resigned his CEO post on January 1. Will he ever assume responsibility for what EnCana and OCP did in Ecuador? …