More than two dozen major lawsuits put a price tag on climate damage caused by fossil fuel companies

Four years ago, Boulder, Colorado, for follow-up ExxonMobil and Suncor Energy, owner of the state’s only oil refinery, for climate change damages and adaptation expenses. Boulder and its co-plaintiffs, Boulder County and San Miguel County, where Telluride is located, valued damage from extreme weather events would cost them more than $100 million by 2050.

In the end, they overestimated the duration and underestimated the price.

In late December, the Marshall Fire ripped through Boulder County, devastating more than 6,000 acres and incinerate more than 1,000 homes and seven commercial buildings at an estimated cost of $1 billion, making it the most destructive fire in Colorado in terms of property loss.

The Marshall Fire wasn’t the only — or even the biggest — in Colorado since the three communities filed their lawsuit, which is still waiting for in state court. In reality, four of Colorado’s five largest fires per acre have occurred since then, ranging from 108,000 to nearly 209,000 acres.

ExxonMobil and Suncor Energy, a company based in Alberta, Canada, have a large carbon footprint in Colorado.

ExxonMobil has produced more than one million barrels of oil from Colorado fields, according to Colorado Communities. complaintand its subsidiary XTO Energy currently produces 60 million cubic feet of natural gas per day from 492,000 acres in Rio Blanco County. There is also 95 Exxon and Mobil gas stations in the state. In total, the company’s production and transportation operations in Colorado were responsible for more than 420,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions between 2011 and 2015, according to the complaint.

Meanwhile, Suncor’s US headquarters is based in Denver, and its oil refinerywho produces 98,000 barrels of refined oil per day, is less than 5 miles from downtown. Suncor gas stations, which sell Shell, Exxon and Mobil branded products, to supply approximately 35% of gasoline and 55% of diesel sold in the state, according to a 2016 Denver Business Journal article. According to the complaintSuncor’s operations in Colorado were responsible for approximately 1 million metric tons of carbon emissions in 2016 alone, equivalent to the annual production of more than 217,000 typical passenger vehicles.

Colorado communities combat that ExxonMobil and Suncor knew their products were causing global warming as early as 1968, when a report

commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, the largest trade association for the US oil and gas industry, warned of the threat that burning fossil fuels poses to the climate. Regardless, ExxonMobil and Suncor not only continued to produce and market fossil fuel products without disclosing the risks, but the communities complaint accusations, but they have also engaged in a decades-long disinformation campaign to manufacture doubt about the reality and seriousness of climate change.

“The actions of the defendants have already caused or contributed to rising temperatures in Colorado,” said the complaint States. “Colorado saw average temperatures rise 2.5 degrees [Fahrenheit] over the last 50 years, with more than one 2nd degree [Fahrenheit] rising since 1983.” These higher temperatures extended what was a four-month fire season in the western states to six to eight months, or even all year, according to United States Forest Service. Wildfires are starting earlier, burning more intensely and destroying larger tracts of land than ever before.

The three plaintiffs want ExxonMobil and Suncor to pay “their share” of the damages caused by their “intentional, reckless and negligent conduct.” This share could amount to billions of dollars to help cover the cost of an increasing number of heat waves, wildfires, droughts, intense rainfall and floods.

Boulder’s trial in April 2018 was not the first U.S. climate-related case against the fossil fuel industry. New York City and eight California’s coastal cities and counties, including San Francisco and Oakland, had previously filed similar lawsuits against ExxonMobil and other oil and gas companies, seeking compensation for damages to their communities. Nowadays, at least 27 states, counties and cities have sued major fossil fuel companies for fraud or climate-related damage, or both, and with good reason. The cost of climate change-related disasters continues to climb.

Indeed, the Marshall Fire was only one of 20 climate and weather disasters in 2021 that resulted in at least $1 billion in damages, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, just two shy of the record 22 in 2020 and well above the average of 6.3 large-scale US disasters per year between 2000 and 2009. In total, last year’s billion-dollar disasters resulted in $145 billion in damages—52 percent higher that in 2020 – and 688 deaths. The common denominator of these growing numbers? Climate change.

“The fingerprints of climate change were all over many of the billion-dollar events that hit the United States in 2021,” says Rachel Licker, senior climatologist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “We’re basically watching long-standing climate projections from the past come true.”

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Lifea project of the Independent Media Institute.

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Richard L. Militello