On June 25, a federal judge in California threw out a major lawsuit by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland that sought hold oil and gas companies liable for climate change. The cities argued that BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobile, and Royal Dutch Shell created a “public nuisance” by causing greenhouse gasses to be emitted into the atmosphere. Nuisance is an old legal doctrine that in the past might have been used to force a factory to pay for disruption and pollution that impacted its neighbors.
The judge called this lawsuit a “breathtaking” use of the legal theory. It would make these individual companies liable for decades worth of legal sales of fossil fuels. The law of public nuisance requires courts to balance the alleged harm against the benefits of the conduct. The judge pointed out that the “monumental progress” made since the industrial revolution would not have been possible without fossil fuels. It seems unfair, the judge said, to blame oil and gas companies for supplying the fuel that the rest of us burned.
The giant oil and gas companies tend to take most of the blame for global warming, because they have been operating for so long and there is some evidence they understood the risks of climate change early on. In fact, there is a similar ongoing lawsuit by the Californian counties of San Mateo and Marin that is pending in California state court.
In our region, the largest operators generally tend to be newer and regional operators that do not have the baggage of the major oil and gas companies. So these climate lawsuits are less likely to impact our region directly, but it is always good to see a judge acknowledge the importance of the oil and gas sector. At Cimmaron Land, we work hard to make for smooth interactions between landowners and E&P companies, and if you would like to discuss our work in the region you can call 412-212-7517.