Houston v. Chevron: A Case of Environmental Justice
In the 1920's, three unlined underground storage tanks for oil were connected to the Pierce Junction Oil Well near Houston, Texas. The tanks, connected by pipeline, were known as the Mykawa Tank Farm. In 1927, a hurricane partially destroyed the wooden tank covers, making them virtually unusable; thus, the company abandoned them. In the 1960's, Gulf Oil, the owner of the land, decided to sell it.
John Lester of the Log Development Company bought the land six years later, hoping to develop the land as a "Negro residential and commercial development." Lester built the subdivision on top of the filled-in oil pits, disregarding contractors' advice that he should remove them entirely. At this time, Chevron owned the oil pits.
People in the neighborhood began to notice strange colors in the soil, strange phenomena with the plants of the region (like trees with fruit on only one side), and deaths of animals that happened to dig in the backyard. Residents fell ill, and began to wonder if there was a connection with the oil pits beneath their homes.The ensuing law suit, John R. Simmons et al. v. Chevron U.S.A., was taken to the state district court on March 24, and became one of our nation's most well-known environmental justice cases.
The EPA performed tests on the site to determine the science behind the residents' claims. The City of Houston, as well as the Texas Water Commission and the Texas Rail Commission, also performed tests of their own. In its own defense, so did Chevron. Each test contradicted another one, but the EPA had its say and determined that the levels of surface methane and underground hydrocarbons were not enough to be detrimental to human heath. The court case ended in a $12 million settlement, allocated among Houston Heights residents based upon zoning.
The following pages describe the parties involved in the case, from lawyers, to companies, to the people of the Kennedy Heights neighborhood.
The pages illustrate the details of the case, as well as the proceedings during and after the trial:
WHAT: To find out more about what exactly happened to start the conflict, how the case was carried out, and how it was resolved, click here.
WHO: To read about the parties and people involved in the case, click here.
WHERE: To find out about the places and forums in which the case took place, click here.
HOW: To read about the resolution and solutions for the case, click here.
RELATED COURSES: To see what Colby courses may relate to this case study, click here.
SOURCES: To access government documents and news articles concerning the case, click here.