California Sues 5 Oil Giants: Here Are The Biggest Numbers Behind The Explosive Lawsuit


The state of California sued Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and BP accusing the companies of lying about the climate impacts of their business practices in a lawsuit alleging massive financial damages and specific years when the firms engaged in disinformation campaigns.

Key Facts

Tens of billions of dollars: That’s how much California alleges the companies have caused in damages—costs the state is seeking for the companies to pay, according to the lawsuit.

Billions of tons: The amount of greenhouse gas emissions California alleged the oil firms have produced.

1970: The approximate year the companies are alleged to have started engaging in disinformation campaigns, which California said were conducted through advertisements in print publications that misled consumers about their fossil fuel products, portraying them as environmentally friendly.

1978: A “remarkably accurate” internal Exxon memorandum on global warming predictions is published, provoking Exxon to create a “‘very aggressive defensive program in… atmospheric science and climate’” meant to combat potential environmental legislation affecting its business.

$11.6 billion: The spending reported by Shell in the first half of 2023, “of which less than $1 billion went to renewables and ‘energy solutions,’” according to the lawsuit.

More than $8 billion: That’s the amount of money California says in the suit it has designated in the last three years to modernize water infrastructure and management in preparation for a potential loss of 10% of its water supplies by 2040—a crisis it says oil companies have helped cause.

ConocoPhillips, Exxon and BP did not immediately respond to Forbes’ request for comment.


Shell told Forbes it doesn’t “believe the courtroom is the right venue to address climate change, but that smart policy from government and action from all sectors is the appropriate way to reach solutions and drive progress.” A Chevron spokesperson echoed Shell’s statement, saying climate change requires a “coordinated international policy response” and that California’s “local courts have no constructive or constitutionally permissible role in crafting global energy policy.” Ryan Meyers, the senior vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, told Forbes the oil industry has substantially reduced emissions, adding the “ongoing, coordinated campaign to wage meritless, politicized lawsuits against a foundational American industry and its workers is nothing more than a distraction from important national conversations and an enormous waste of California taxpayer resources.”

Key Background

The lawsuit sued the companies and their association, the American Petroleum Institute, over charges including public nuisance, damage to natural resources, false advertising, misleading environmental marketing, unlawful business practices and products liability. California, which filed the lawsuit in San Francisco, is also seeking the establishment of an abatement fund used to pay for future climate-related disasters in the state

Crucial Quote

“California taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill for billions of dollars in damages — wildfires wiping out entire communities, toxic smoke clogging our air, deadly heat waves, record-breaking droughts parching our wells,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement.

Further Reading

California Sues Giant Oil Companies, Citing Decades of Deception (New York Times)

California sues major oil firms over the impact of fossil fuels on climate change (San Francisco Chronicle)

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