Chevron under siege at shareholder meeting in San Ramon
SAN RAMON -- Activists besieged Chevron at its shareholders meeting here Wednesday, in a gathering punctuated by shouts from attendees, warnings the event would be terminated early and interventions by security guards. The acrimony at the annual meeting nearly obscured the company's discussion of a performance in 2010 that produced a gusher of profits and a jump in the oil giant's stock price. "We had a tremendous year," Chevron's chief executive officer, John Watson, told the shareholders. During 2010, Chevron earned $19.02 billion, the company's second-best annual profit. And profit has strengthened lately: Over the 12 months that ended in March, Chevron earned $20.68 billion. During the one-year period that ended Wednesday, Chevron's shares have jumped 43 percent, nearly twice as robust as the S&P 500 gain of 23 percent over the same stretch. Yet those very profits have helped make Chevron a target of activists who peppered Watson with questions, statements and demands about the company's environmental and human rights record. "The enormous profits at a time when the public at large labors under $4 gasoline has created a way for activists to express their discontent about oil companies in general," said Robbert Van Batenburg, head of equity research for Louis Capital Markets. Chevron has been forced to confront a lawsuit that alleges the company is liable for an array of pollution woes linked to Texaco's operations in the Amazon rain forest. Chevron bought Texaco for $45.83 billion in October 2001. "Chevron versus a local Amazon tribe doesn't read well, regardless of the case's merits," Van Batenburg said. "It doesn't look good at all." In response, Chevron has stated that Ecuador's government-owned oil company, Petroecuador, bears primary responsibility for the oil spills and other pollution in the jungle. Watson told the shareholders that Texaco cleaned up any contamination it caused. "Texaco lived up to its obligations," Watson said. "Petroecuador has not lived up to its responsibilities." The activists claimed that Chevron has failed to live up to its responsibilities in an array of locations in addition to Ecuador. The protesters stated Chevron has failed to be a good steward in locations such as Angola, the Niger Delta, Canada, the Philippines, Myanmar, Kazakhstan and Alberta, Canada. Chevron employs 6,500 people in the East Bay, said spokesman Kurt Glaubitz. Complaints also surfaced about the Richmond refinery. Kenneth Davis, a Richmond resident, said Chevron's actions have united protesters. "People are dying," Davis said. "That's the reason we all are here. You are a bunch of liars and thieves. You steal from all over the Earth, then you process what you have taken in Richmond." When Davis had finished speaking, he attempted to hand-deliver a document to Watson. Before Davis could stride more than a few feet, multiple security guards blocked his path. "I don't have no guns and no weapons," Davis said. Davis said he had been jailed after his actions at a Chevron shareholders meeting in Houston and had been thrown out of another meeting in San Ramon. Davis continued to stand and shout disagreements with the company's presentation. "Mr. Davis, we have heard enough from you today," Watson said in response to the interruptions. "If you don't sit down, we will terminate this meeting." Davis relented, but vowed to return in 2012 for the next annual meeting. "We'll love to see you then," Watson replied. Outside the meeting, 150 activists protested peacefully on Bollinger Canyon Way. Several other activists shouted questions or statements when others were speaking. Audience members shouted "shut up" at others. Antonia Juhasz, director of the energy program at Global Exchange, a San Francisco nonprofit, said the Chevron CEO provided answers that were largely spin control. "They were not substantive, and it was very frustrating," Juhas said. "There were no concessions to any of the points that were made." After the meeting, Ginger Cassady, a campaign director with the Rainforest Action Network, said a concerted effort has been launched to intensify pressure on Chevron. "Our goal at these meetings is to put the spotlight on Chevron's environmental crimes," Cassady said. Were Chevron to halt production at the seven or so locations that the protesters specifically cited Wednesday, the company's production of crude oil would plunge. The company now produces 2.76 million barrels a day and the sites account for 833,000 barrels a day, or 30 percent of production. Tens of thousands of jobs would be erased by such a halt. Chevron's employs 17,000 company workers at the locations. And thousands more temporary jobs would be imperiled, including 6,000 in the Niger Delta in a project to curb pollution there.