It is almost a month after Boulder and San Miguel counties filed a lawsuit against Exxon and Suncor energy for the damages to the environment their product has caused, and nothing has changed. I saw dozens of articles the day it was announced but with our crazy short news cycle things just seem to get forgotten, so I wanted to bring it back to people attention.
The counties are claiming that Exxon, Suncor, and all the other major energy companies are at least partly to blame for the level of climate change we are and will experience. A study has recently come to light that shows oil and gas companies knew what their product was doing to the globe well over 50 years ago. After this revelation, people have been left wondering why they should bear the burden of change. By 2050 it is estimated that the cost of climate change to Boulder and San Miguel counties will be in the hundreds of millions. The public does not think it is fair that the oil and gas companies will not have to shell out a dime to help mitigate the destruction they have caused; hence the lawsuit.
Boulder and San Miguel counties are not the first to sue a multibillion-dollar oil and gas company (although they are the first I have heard of), nine other cities and counties have tried to sue oil and gas. Just in 2017, nine cities filed suit against oil and gas companies the most notable being New York City and coastal cities in California. Most of the newly filed lawsuits have not been decided yet but the past is not very bright for cities suing oil and gas. For instance, the Alaskan village Kivalina in 2008 filed a suit against several oil and gas companies for their role in sea level rise. The suit was dismissed less than a year later by the district courts because there was a lack of evidence linking the specified oil and gas companies to the rise of sea level. I think the word choice here is very telling. They wanted to be sure the verdict read that it was more the specific companies that they chose and not the industry altogether. I get the sense that the courts did not want to set the precedent that no oil and gas company could be sued over climate change, just that the companies that were listed here were not the main drivers. This wordage leaves plenty of room for other counties and cities to try and take the cost of climate change to the people that caused it.
A local example of the uphill battle that faces Boulder and San Miguel counties against oil and gas is the Martinez case, which has just been reopened for appeal in the Colorado Supreme Court. This case involves several young plaintiffs, spearheaded by Xiuhtzecatl Martinez, suing the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to take the health of the public into consideration when issuing drilling permits. The case was ruled in favor of Martinez and the other teenagers stating that the COGCC had to scientifically prove that the drilling would not harm the health of the public or the environment. The COGCC’s response is that having to do this would make their two-part mission statement harder, which is “to protect health and safety, and promote drilling.” I personally feel that the first part of that mission statement should take priority, but oil and gas clearly do not as they fight to get this ruling overturned.
Only time will tell if oil and gas will have to own up to their destruction, but I think their time is coming. With the Alaskan ruling leaving the door open for other courts to find our particular oil and gas companies guilty, and the number of lawsuits on an exponential rise it is only a matter of time. The public perception of oil and gas is on the decline and the cost of renewables is going down. I think that if these multibillion-dollar companies want to keep their control over the market and a positive public image they will have to own up to this destruction eventually. Personally, I feel that if they do not change to renewables and own up to their selfishness then they should get left in the past. Even if they do, they still might need to be left in the past as we restart with a whole new outlook on energy.