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Hundreds Gather in Duncan Oklahoma to Protest Outside Halliburton Shareholder Meeting

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We go to Oklahoma to speak with Corpwatch’s Pratap Chatterjee about his new report “Hurricane Halliburton: Conflict, Climate Change and Catastrophe.” We also speak with Nigerian attorney Michael Keania Karikpo who represents Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria. [includes rush transcript]

Hundreds of people are converging in a small Oklahoma town this week for the annual meeting of one the country”s most controversial companies. Not all of them are shareholders, however. Instead, the annual meeting of oil gas and services giant Halliburton will be met with scores of activists making the trip from near and far.

Halliburton — which was once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney — has drawn widespread attention for its close ties to the Bush administration and its no-bid government contracts in places like Iraq and New Orleans. That attention has only magnified with a series of well-publicized accusations of mismanagement, corruption and sheer incompetence, in places like Iraq, Iran and Nigeria. All while it’s continued to pull in record-breaking profits — $2.4 billion last year.

Although the previous three shareholder’s meetings have been held in Houston, Wednesday’s meeting is tucked away in the little town of Duncan, over three-hundred miles away. Halliburton says it made the moves to honor its Oklahoma roots. Critics say the company is attempting to hide from its critics.

Well today we’re joined from Oklahoma City by two of these critics who’ve made the trip to Oklahoma.

  • Pratap Chatterjee, Managing Director of CorpWatch. CorpWatch has published a new, alternative annual report for Halliburton called “Hurricane Halliburton: Conflict, Climate Change and Catastrophe.” It’s available through the website CorpWatch.org
  • Michael Keania Karikpo, lawyer from Port Harcourt, Nigeria, where accusations of bribery and corruption against Halliburton date back several years. Michael Keania Karikpo represents Environmental Rights Action (Nigeria), a member of the Friends of the Earth International network.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, we’re going to be joined from Oklahoma City by two of the critics who have made the trip to Oklahoma. Pratap Chatterjee is Managing Director of CorpWatch, which has published a new alternative annual report for Halliburton called “Hurricane Halliburton: Conflict, Climate Change and Catastrophe.” We’re also joined in the Oklahoma studio by Michael Keania Karikpo. He is a lawyer from Port Harcourt, Nigeria, where accusations of bribery and corruption against Halliburton date back several years. He represents Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria and a member of Friends of the Earth International network. We should mention we asked Halliburton to appear on the program, but didn’t get a response.

Let’s begin with Pratap Chatterjee. Before we move on to Halliburton’s annual meeting, we were just talking about privatization of detention facilities along the border, and Joe Richey was talking about KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary. Can you elaborate on that?

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Sure, Amy. In fact, the use of private contractors on the border to monitor immigration is actually a longstanding one, even though it’s been pretty secret. So a company called E-Systems, for example, back in the 1970s was hired — it’s now part of Raytheon — was hired to monitor border traffic for the Drug Enforcement Agency, and more recently a company called Anteon trains the border police. So KBR is just one of the latest in a number of contractors, and KBR, of course, is a subsidiary of Halliburton that is getting jobs to do immigration.

And one of the reasons they’re getting this contract is because of their work in countries like Iraq, where they have maintained large facilities, the military bases, built them, cleaned them, provided food to them. And so, the U.S. government sees the system under which — and Halliburton even helps to run prisons like the Abu Ghraib prison, where they provide medical services and other kinds of things. So, I think the feeling is that Halliburton can now do those kinds of services if there’s an emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border. Hence they have that contract today.

But Halliburton, of course, as you said, Amy, has a long record also of mismanagement of things and overcharging. And this is something that the new report, “Hurricane Halliburton,” which we’ve just published, documents, what’s happened in the last year in Iraq of overcharging, providing dirty water to troops that are in the U.S. military bases in Iraq, such as in Camp Ramadi. And that problem of providing and contaminating water in Iraq is something, in fact, Halliburton has a history of doing in countries around the world, such as in Nigeria and in Peru, where the provision of pipelines under lax environmental oversight has, in fact, leaked into local systems and polluted water for thousands of communities around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Pratap Chatterjee, now let’s go to the bigger issue of Halliburton and why you are in Oklahoma today?

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Well, Halliburton’s meeting, which has now moved to Duncan, where, as you mentioned, the company started back in the 1920s, in fact was founded on stolen technology. Erle Halliburton stole the technology from his boss Carl Perkins in California. But he built it into a very successful business here.

And the company, I think they want to hide and run from protesters in Houston. The problem is, of course, the protesters are making their way right here. In fact, this year, more than last year, they’re going to have protesters from around the world, such as Michael, who has come all the way from Nigeria. There’s Roberto Vasquez, who’s come in from Peru. There are going to be Iraqi vets that are coming in as far way as Ohio. People coming in from the Gulf states, protesting against Halliburton’s profiteering from the rebuilding of naval bases and the draining of water in Louisiana. So there’s really going to be people from all over that are coming here asking questions: Why is Halliburton polluting the water? Why is Halliburton overcharging? Shouldn’t taxpayers get a good deal, as opposed to being asked to pay, you know, for war profiteering and that sort of thing?

So groups over here in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Veterans for Peace is actually leading the protest tomorrow morning at the Simmons Center in Duncan, Oklahoma. They have a permit, and, in fact, people are encouraged to come out and participate in the protest outside the annual general meeting. There will also be people coming up from Houston. A group called Houston Global Awareness is arranging buses. There’s groups coming up from Dallas. People from the Crawford Peace House, right outside of George Bush’s ranch, will be making their way to Duncan, Oklahoma.

AMY GOODMAN: As I said, we’re also joined by Michael Keania Karikpo, who is a lawyer from Port Harcourt, from the Niger Delta in Nigeria. Can you talk about why Environmental Rights Action, your organization, is focusing on Halliburton right now?

MICHAEL KEANIA KARIKPO: Well, thanks. We’re focusing on Halliburton right now, because over the last few years Halliburton has been enmeshed in shady deals in Nigeria. If you remember, we have the issue of the $180 million bribe paid by Halliburton and its partners in the consortium, the TSKJ consortium, to win the contract for the construction of the Bonny liquefied natural gas plant.

And we also have issues on the recent contract that was awarded by Chevron and the federal government of Nigeria on the Escravos liquefied gas issue. So we have these issues, and we think that Halliburton has paid off government officials, bribed them, and we think it affects our local communities, because paying bribes to government officials affect the local communities, because it takes away revenues that would have been used for building infrastructures in local communities, for health facilities, for providing water, education, and all that sort. But if you go to Nigeria today, local communities rarely benefit from resources derived from oil revenue, and we think the continuous payment of bribe and overcharging for contracts by Halliburton hurts our local communities.

AMY GOODMAN: We have been seeing the news out of Nigeria in the last few days. On Friday, an oil pipeline exploded outside of Lagos. Hundreds of Nigerians were killed. Can you talk about the impact of the whole oil extraction process in Nigeria, which I understand goes far beyond Halliburton to include Chevron, to include Shell, to include ExxonMobil?

MICHAEL KEANIA KARIKPO: Yeah, it’s very sad. It’s very pathetic. Poor people who don’t have jobs, and pipelines that have been there for 40 years have never been changed. Most of those pipelines were built in the early 1960s, early 1970s, and they’ve not been changed. They’re leaking from different points. If you go to the Niger Delta, the river ways and all that, you have oil slicks going for hundreds of kilometers. And we think that all the oil companies, the majors — Shell, Chevron, Agip and Elf — have been involved in this, and there’s no [inaudible] on the ground by the Nigerian government, although there are some regulations, but the implementation is faulty. It’s very weak.

And the oil companies have taken advantage of this to do as they please, to act with impunity. And this has led to oil spillages. This has led to devastation of the environment. And we think this is wrong. You have gas flaring going on presently, and to give you an aspect of this, gas flaring on a yearly basis in Nigeria costs the Nigerian people and the Nigerian government about $2.5 billion. And the oil companies merely pay about $100,000. All the oil companies combined merely pay about $100,000 as penalties for flaring gas. And they will not build infrastructures to utilize gas. And the government will not sanction them properly. At ERA, we think that the government should sanction them properly. They should pay penalties worth the amount of gas that they flare. If they flare $2.5 billion worth of gas, they should pay penalties worth $2.5 billion.

This will push them to build an infrastructure that will utilize gas. And the kind of gas we are talking about, it’s not just a natural gas, the non-associated gas. There’s a difference between the non-associated and the associated gas. The one they flare today in Nigeria is the associated gas, because it is a bit more expensive to clean up before you can pipe it for usage.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael, I just want to point out for our viewers and listeners that this issue of gas flaring, which is largely illegal in this country, but corporations do it in the Niger Delta, is burning off the gas that is on top of the oil that’s coming out of the ground. And you have kids, for example, something Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was executed for taking on the Shell Corporation in Ogoniland, would talk about the apartment building-size flares, where kids never knew a dark night as they lived in the shadow of the flame. But we only have a minute, and I wanted to go back to Pratap Chatterjee, Managing Director of CorpWatch, which has put out this report called “Hurricane Halliburton: Conflict, Climate Change and Catastrophe.” As you move into this annual shareholders meeting tomorrow, the issue of climate change?

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Amy, Halliburton is actually one of the principle players in the issue of climate change, and the reason is that it’s so profitable for them and for the oil companies. Halliburton, in fact, is the company that pioneered a lot of the offshore drilling technologies, the fracturing technologies. So it’s incredibly profitable for them to do this work, and they do this and they’re part of pretty much every major oil operation around the world. So whether you’re talking about gas pipelines in the Caspian Sea or you’re talking about Alaska, Halliburton has been there and been part of that, and they continue to profit in countries from Nigeria, and today, actually, in Peru, the largest natural gas reserve being tap in the Amazonian rainforest is a project between Hunt Energy of Texas and Halliburton. So, the more oil that’s tapped when, as we fail to look for or implement alternatives, Halliburton is a company that profits out of that. It’s not just Shell and Exxon. Every single one of those companies uses Halliburton, and therefore they profit from every single oil exploration project there is, whether it’s offshore or onshore.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Pratap Chatterjee and Michael Keania Karikpo, joining us from Oklahoma, where the shareholders’ meeting for Halliburton will be taking place tomorrow. And we will link to the CorpWatch report, which is at corpwatch.org at our website, democracynow.org.

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