InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Environmental Justice and Freshwater Resources - Spanish > Unit 5: Hazardous Waste, Petroleum, and the Amazon
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Unit 5: Hazardous Waste, Petroleum, and the Amazon

Ruth Hoff, Wittenberg University. Authored and compiled new case study material based on Unit 5 of Environmental Justice and Freshwater Resources module by Adriana Perez, Jill S. Schneiderman, Meg Stewart, and Joshua Villalobos
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These materials have been reviewed for their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards as detailed below. Visit InTeGrate and the NGSS to learn more.


In this unit, students analyze data showing the spatial distribution of contaminants and predict their flow based on topography and the water table. They connect groundwater contamination issues to social justice.

Science and Engineering Practices

Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information: Critically read scientific literature adapted for classroom use to determine the central ideas or conclusions and/or to obtain scientific and/or technical information to summarize complex evidence, concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms. HS-P8.1:

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions: Make a quantitative and/or qualitative claim regarding the relationship between dependent and independent variables. HS-P6.1:

Analyzing and Interpreting Data: Consider limitations of data analysis (e.g., measurement error, sample selection) when analyzing and interpreting data HS-P4.3:

Analyzing and Interpreting Data: Analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational, mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims or determine an optimal design solution. HS-P4.1:

Cross Cutting Concepts

Patterns: Patterns can be used to identify cause and effect relationships. MS-C1.3:

Systems and System Models: Models can be used to predict the behavior of a system, but these predictions have limited precision and reliability due to the assumptions and approximations inherent in models. HS-C4.4:

Patterns: Empirical evidence is needed to identify patterns. HS-C1.5:

Patterns: Different patterns may be observed at each of the scales at which a system is studied and can provide evidence for causality in explanations of phenomena HS-C1.1:

Cause and effect: Empirical evidence is required to differentiate between cause and correlation and make claims about specific causes and effects. HS-C2.1:

Disciplinary Core Ideas

The Roles of Water in Earth's Surface Processes: Water continually cycles among land, ocean, and atmosphere via transpiration, evaporation, condensation and crystallization, and precipitation, as well as downhill flows on land. MS-ESS2.C1:

Natural Resources: All forms of energy production and other resource extraction have associated economic, social, environmental, and geopolitical costs and risks as well as benefits. New technologies and social regulations can change the balance of these factors. HS-ESS3.A2:

Human Impacts on Earth Systems: Scientists and engineers can make major contributions by developing technologies that produce less pollution and waste and that preclude ecosystem degradation. HS-ESS3.C2:

Defining and Delimiting Engineering Problems: Humanity faces major global challenges today, such as the need for supplies of clean water and food or for energy sources that minimize pollution, which can be addressed through engineering. These global challenges also may have manifestations in local communities HS-ETS1.A2:

Performance Expectations

Earth's Systems: Analyze geoscience data to make the claim that one change to Earth's surface can create feedbacks that cause changes to other Earth systems. HS-ESS2-2:

Earth and Human Activity: Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems. HS-ESS3-4:

This material was developed and reviewed through the InTeGrate curricular materials development process. This rigorous, structured process includes:

  • team-based development to ensure materials are appropriate across multiple educational settings.
  • multiple iterative reviews and feedback cycles through the course of material development with input to the authoring team from both project editors and an external assessment team.
  • real in-class testing of materials in at least 3 institutions with external review of student assessment data.
  • multiple reviews to ensure the materials meet the InTeGrate materials rubric which codifies best practices in curricular development, student assessment and pedagogic techniques.
  • review by external experts for accuracy of the science content.

This page first made public: May 23, 2016


In this unit, students explore the ongoing conflict over Texaco's role in contamination from crude oil production as operator of an oil production consortium in Ecuador between 1964 and 1992. By studying the environmental contamination committed by oil companies in Ecuador, students will evaluate how hazardous substances affect humans and the environment. This unit includes perspectives from indigenous communities as well as from Chevron. Students also work with the scientific concepts of soil permeability and groundwater flow, to recommend strategies for evaluating potential levels of contamination in the region.

Learning Goals

Unit 5 activities support the module goals of being able to articulate the principles of environmental justice as they relate to examples of water scarcity and contamination in varied geographic locations and proposing potential solutions to inequitable access to clean water based on principles of the water cycle.

The specific learning objectives for this unit align with the World Readiness Standards for Learning Languages as follows:

  • Communication:
    • Interpersonal Communication: Spanish language learners interact and negotiate meaning in spoken conversations to share information, reactions, and opinions about the social and environmental impact of contamination committed by oil companies in Ecuador.
    • Interpretive Communication: Spanish language learners understand, interpret, and analyze what is heard, read, or viewed regarding the history and perspectives regarding the Texaco-Chevron case in Ecuador.
  • Cultures:
    • Relating Cultural Practices to Perspectives: Spanish language learners use the language to investigate, explain, and reflect on the relationship between the practices and perspectives of indigenous communities in the Amazon as they relate to water resources.
  • Connections:

    • Making Connections: Spanish language learners build, reinforce, and expand their knowledge of other disciplines while using Spanish to develop critical thinking. As part of this learners will be able to:

      • identify the relationship between soil particle size and soil permeability,
      • predict the direction of groundwater flow based on water table elevation levels, and
      • apply principles from the water cycle to a specific oil well site from the Lago Agrio region.
    • Acquiring Information and Diverse Perspectives: Spanish language learners access and evaluate information from indigenous and oil company perspectives regarding the Chevron-Texaco case based on recorded interviews and websites in Spanish.

Context for Use

This unit is designed to function as one day of instruction in an intermediate-level Spanish class. The plan is for a 50-minute class. However, these materials would also work well for a longer class period or spread out over two lesson periods. Although the instructions below include both Spanish and English, the lesson is designed to be conducted entirely in Spanish. The activities can be done in class, completed together, or completed as homework, depending on time and subject needs. On its own, this unit communicates the need for an informed and science-literate citizenry to be empowered to make observations of their physical surroundings. The unit explains the power of a community to call attention to inequitable situations regarding access to clean water and the value of cultural perspectives as they apply to natural resources.

Description and Teaching Materials

In class you will need a chalkboard or whiteboard, a projector, and computer access to the Internet.


Students should be given the El caso Chevron Texaco (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 652kB May19 16) handout to complete before class. If possible, distribute the handout as an email attachment or via other electronic means so that students may click on the Internet links.

Answer key to El caso Chevron Texaco (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 658kB May19 16)


"El caso Texaco-Chevron" — small-group discussion, page 1 of handout (10 min)

Begin by asking students to divide into small groups of three to four. Have students look at page 1 of their pre-class activity handout, compare their responses, and discuss the following questions in their small groups.

¿Cuáles son los puntos que más les impresionan del caso Texaco-Chevron? ¿Por qué?

Return to the full class and ask the groups to share their answers and ideas related to the above questions. Follow-up as appropriate with discussion of any other questions from page 1 of the handout.

"El caso Texaco-Chevron" — small group discussion, page 2 of handout (10-15 min)

Write the following questions on the board or project them so that everyone can see them. Ask students to return to their small groups and discuss these questions relating to page 2 of the handout.

  1. ¿Qué tienen en común las varias perspectivas indígenas que se presentan aquí?
  2. Considerando la perspectiva de Chevron que leyeron, ¿qué defensa imaginan que daría Chevron a las demandas y acusaciones sobre la conducta de Texaco en la zona?
  3. Si fueran jueces en este caso ¿qué preguntas tendrían para decidir el caso?

Follow up with a full-class discussion asking the various groups to share their responses. Allow for sufficient time to compare the questions generated from question #3, since they will be reconsidered in the next section.

Slide presentation: El caso Chevron Texaco y la permeabilidad del suelo (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 5.7MB Sep25 14)

Part 1: Timeline and oil extraction diagrams (10–15 min)

Tell students that they will be hearing more information about the history of the Chevron-Texaco case. Ask them to listen and note which questions are answered from the list they previously generated (see question #3 above).

Present slides 1–5 allowing time for think-pair-share activities to respond to the questions in slides 4 and 5. After presenting these slides, ask students if the material answered any of their questions from #3 above. Ask if they have other questions about the case after learning this additional information or if it changed their thinking about the case.

Part 2: Soil permeability and water table levels (10 min)

Slides 6–11 introduce concepts related to soil permeability and water table levels. These concepts will be used later to predict the consequences of contamination at an oil drilling site. Several slides include questions that engage students with the material and are intended for think-pair-share activities.

Teaching Notes and Tips

The slides and in-class activities are interactive and convey information about the events related to Texaco oil production in Ecuador, soil permeability, and water tables.

An excellent extension to this unit is to have students create a mock trial scenario with one group serving as judges, another as Chevron, and a third group as the indigenous plaintiffs. To prepare for this, students could be assigned to further research the trial (several resources are suggested below) and search for the most recent developments.


In-class oil well activity (10 min)

If more time is needed, this can be assigned as homework. It may help students to have the material in the slides available for review if this assessment activity is assigned as homework.

In this assessment activity students will:

  • predict the direction of groundwater flow based on water table elevation levels, and
  • apply measures of soil permeability to predict the potential for groundwater contamination at the Lago Agrio 02 oil well site in Ecuador.

Distribute the handout and ask students to work in teams of two or three to evaluate the information and answer the questions.

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »