Colorado Is the Latest to Sue the Oil Industry

The High Park Fire in Colorado in 2012.
The High Park Fire in Colorado in 2012.
Photo: Getty

I dare say 2018 will be the year of climate litigation. In Colorado, the city of Boulder, as well as San Miguel and Boulder counties, filed a joint lawsuit Tuesday against ExxonMobil and Suncor Energy. It’s the first such litigation to come from a non-coastal state.


Why? For the corporations’ alleged role in “causing, contributing to and exacerbating climate change,” per the 109-page complaint filed in the Boulder County District Court. Their requests? That these companies pay up to help mitigate the impacts of climate change on these regions. After all, some oil companies (like Shell and Exxon) knew about climate change since the ’70s, according to this comprehensive timeline, and despite their knowledge worked tirelessly to build a climate denial campaign that’s really at the root of the current state of climate denial in the U.S.

“To enhance their own profits, they concealed this knowledge and spread doubt about science they knew to be correct,” said Marco Simons, the Americas Regional Director for the environmental group EarthRights International, in a press release. “Now, communities all over this country are left to foot the bill.”

These Colorado hoods aren’t the first to sue oil giants. Exxon, in particular, is dealing with some serious litigation on behalf of major cities like New York and San Francisco and Oakland in California. Other major companies, like Chevron, BP, and Royal Dutch Shell, are also facing litigation. Companies are starting to get salty about the lawsuits, with Chevron even trying to sue another oil company in Norway, Statoil. Really, dude?

What does make this Colorado lawsuit stand out, however, is that, well, this isn’t a coastal region. In places like New York City and San Francisco, lawsuits tend to highlight the impacts of sea level rise. But that’s just one way the world will experience climate change. Some California counties have taken legal action after seeing firsthand what their wildfire seasons will look like in the future.

Wildfires, drought, and even flooding are all shouted out in the complaint. So are the state’s $41 billion agriculture and $5 billion ski industries, both of which are threatened by rising temperatures. And, of course, there’s health: Climate change affects air quality and the spread of disease.

“Climate change impacts are already happening, and they are only going to get worse,” said Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones, in a press release. “Climate change is not just about sea level rise. It affects all of us in the middle of the country as well.”


Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.


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I’m going to guess that Jefferson County didn’t join Boulder County in this lawsuit. Or Weld County which is home of much of the oil and gas production and located just to the north and west of Boulder. Then again, Jefferson County is home of both Colorado School of Mines and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. And maybe sitting on the fence regarding climate change in Jefferson county is the USGS (US Geological Survey) federal center campus. This is where geologists (maybe some like Ryan Zinke) do work on water, environmental geology, petroleum geology, seismology and other dumb geology stuff that dumb stupid geologists do. Who the hell would ever admit being a geologists anyway?