Charleston Sues Big Oil Over Climate Concerns

Southern city latest to file litigation against fossil fuel companies
station oil tanker
Photograph: Shutterstock

CHARLESTON, S.C. The city of Charleston, S.C., recently filed a lawsuit against 24 big oil firms, claiming they contributed to climate change and misled the public about its effects, according to a report by The Island Packet. The lawsuit asserts that the defendants should pay for damages to the city resulting from flooding and other climate-related effects, piling onto a heap of lawsuits for many brands seen above forecourts and stores across the country.

Defendants in the case include ExxonMobil, Chevron and Shell, according to court documents. Other oil companies with convenience stores and gas stations on CSP's Top 202 ranking of c-store chains by size named as defendants included BP America; Marathon Petroleum and Speedway; Murphy USA; and Colonial Group and Enmarket.

The case was filed in the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas, and specifically accuses the companies of creating a public and private nuisance and violating South Carolina’s Unfair Trade Practices Act, among other accusations.

“As this lawsuit shows, these companies have known for more than 50 years that their products were going to cause the worst flooding the world has seen since Noah built the Ark,” Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said in a statement. “And instead of warning us, they covered up the truth and turned our flooding problems into their profits. That was wrong, and this lawsuit is all about holding them accountable for that multi-decade campaign of deception.”

While most of the 24 defendants have declined to comment on acting litigation, officials from Shell said they “do not believe the courtroom is the right venue to address climate change."

“The Shell Group’s position on climate change has been a matter of public record for decades. We agree that action is needed now on climate change, we fully support the need for society to transition to a lower-carbon future and we’re committed to playing our part by addressing our own emissions and helping customers to reduce theirs,” a statement from Shell said.

Charleston is the first city in the American South to file a lawsuit against big oil firms on claims related to climate change, but Hoboken, N.J., filed a similar lawsuit one week prior. Baltimore, New York City and San Francisco have each filed similar lawsuits.

Charleston filed its lawsuit shortly before the third anniversary of tropical storm Hurricane Irma, which reached a mile inland in Charleston. The 140-page lawsuit alleges that the oil companies knew that using fossil fuel products creates greenhouse gasses, which lead to climate change. The lawsuit also says the companies worked to discredit scientists and reports that made claims linking use of fossil fuels to climate change.

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