Someone reading this blog might get the impression I take pleasure in hearing about environmental lawsuits against oil companies and their friends. They would be right. I do. And so I enjoyed hearing about perhaps the most prominent climate lawsuit in the U.S.
California, the most populous state in the union with about the same number of people as Canada, is suing several of the world’s biggest oil companies. A clash of giants.
The state is claiming that the companies have caused tens of billions of dollars in damages while deceiving the public by downplaying the risks of fossil fuels. Named in the suit are Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips, and Chevron, as well as the American Petroleum Institute. The defendants are accused of creating public nuisance, destroying natural resources, and violating false-advertising and product-liability laws.
According to Richard Wiles, president of the nonprofit Center for Climate Integrity, “California’s case is the most significant, decisive, and powerful climate action directed against the oil and gas industry in U.S. history.”
Like Alberta, California is a major oil producer, yet it doesn’t intend to let any benefits it has accrued from the exploitation of its resources shield the industry from its malpractice. Governor Gavin Newsom doesn’t mince words, “These folks had this information and lied to us, and we could have staved off some of the most significant consequences. It’s shameful. It’s sickens you to your core.”
Of particular interest to an Albertan is that the suit seeks to establish an abatement fund to pay for future damages and recovery costs incurred from climate-related disasters, including mitigation and adaptation efforts. The state claims it has already spent tens of billions on climate disasters, and expects costs to rise significantly.
Alberta, too, has spent billions on floods, wildfires and drought caused at least in part by climate change. Unlike California, our government hesitates to even make the connection.
And then there are all those orphan wells that need to be plugged and reclaimed that the oil industry is responsible for but is failing to fund. Our government is contemplating dealing with this by giving the companies a royalty break to help them pay their dues, i.e. the taxpayers will pay for the oil industry’s sins.
So should Alberta correct course and follow the example of its fellow fossil fuel producer? I’m kidding of course. We Canadians simply aren’t as litigious a tribe as the Americans, and with a government led by a former oil lobbyist, we’ll just mutely take our lumps. Nonetheless, I like the sound of that abatement fund.