The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on May 26 reversed a federal judge's dismissal of a climate change lawsuit against oil companies including ExxonMobil, BP and Chevron by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, setting the stage for the case to be heard in a more favorable California state court. The two cities, who first brought suit separately, are seeking billions of dollars from the companies in a special "abatement fund," alleging their practices knowingly led to problems the cities must now contend with, including rising seas and extreme weather. The cases were initially brought in state court, but they were combined and moved to federal court at the demand of the companies, on the basis that they raised questions of US law, such as the Clean Air Act. The case was dismissed in June 2018 by US District Judge William Alsup, who held that the courts lacked jurisdiction in the matter. A Ninth Circuit panel remanded the case back to Judge Alsup, ordering him to give further consideration to whether his court has jurisdiction. If he again finds his court lacks jurisdiction, the panel ruled, the case must return to state court.
After oil prices went negative for the first time ever last month, they are now starting to rise again as lockdowns imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic are gradually lifted. US crude is now back to nearly $30 a barrel. But this is less than half what the price was a year ago, and a third what it was a dozen years ago. Iraq, OPEC's second-largest producer, is at the forefront of the cartel's effort to squeeze supply to consumer nations, as part of its recent deal to curb output. Baghdad just announced a 30% cut of exports to Asia. But it remains to be seen if such measures will jack up prices and ease the economic pain that has led to a remobilization of anti-regime protests, despite pandemic fears. (Reuters, Bloomberg, Al Jazeera)
As a part of the Republican tax overhaul bill, Congress voted Dec. 20 to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and natural gas drilling, after more than four decades of contestation on the matter. The House voted 224-201 to pass the bill, mostly along party lines. This finalizes the legislation, as the Senate version was passed by a 51-48 party-line vote earlier in the day. Once President Trump signs the law, the oil industry will have finally achieved a long-sought goal. "We're going to start drilling in ANWR, one of the largest oil reserves in the world, that for 40 years this country was unable to touch. That by itself would be a massive bill," Trump boasted. "They've been trying to get that, the Bushes, everybody. All the way back to Reagan, Reagan tried to get it. Bush tried to get it. Everybody tried to get it. They couldn't get it passed. That just happens to be here."
San Francisco on Sept. 20 filed a lawsuit against five fossil fuel companies due to expected expenses the city will incur from global warming. The companies named in the suit are BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell—chosen because they are "the largest investor-owned fossil fuel corporations in the world as measured by their historic production of fossil fuels." The suit claims the companies knew of the effects of fossil fuels on global warming since the late 1970s or early '80s, but nonetheless "engaged in large-scale, sophisticated advertising and public relations campaigns to promote pervasive fossil fuel usage." The suit seeks an order that the defendants fund an abatement program for the building of seawalls to protect San Francisco from rising sea levels.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order on April 28 to lift restrictions placed on offshore oil drilling by the previous administration. According to a statement, about 94% of the US Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) was either off-limits to or not considered for oil and gas exploration and development under previous rules. Trump blamed federal regulations for high unemployment in the state of Alaska, where oil and gas are a significant part of the economy, and said lifting restrictions would create thousands of jobs. Opponents, including US Congressman Charlie Christ (D-FL), criticized the move, citing environmental risks posed by drilling, especially naming the 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill.
The US Supreme Court on Nov. 30 denied (PDF) certiorari in an appeal by Mexican states attempting to sue BP over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The court let stand a lower court ruling in Veracruz, Mexico, et al. v. BP, P.L.C., et al, finding that the states of Veracruz, Tamaulipas and Quintana Roo cannot bring suit against BP because Mexico's federal government owns the affected property. The lawsuit sought damages for the cost of responding to the spill, contamination of the water and shoreline and lost tourism. The Mexican federal government filed a similar suit in 2013, which is currently being heard.
Indigenous leaders and activists interrupted an auction of oil and gas exploration blocs overseen by the Brazilian Agency of Oil and Gas in Rio de Janeiro Oct. 7, seizing the stage to discuss climate change, indigenous rights and divestment. The intervention by indigenous leaders in face-paint and traditional head-dresses was followed by a delegation of unionized oil workers who also spoke against the auction. The auction was described as a failure by local media, with only 37 of the 266 blocs sold. Many of fracking blocs extend deep into the Amazon rainforest, including the territories of remote and vulnerable indigenous peoples. The most critical blocs for isolated indigenous peoples are in the Juruá Valley and Serra do Divisor of Amazonas state, and the Javari Valley of Acre. Registered bidders included BP, Shell and ExxonMobil. (EcoWatch, Oct. 9; Brasil ao Minuto, Oct. 7; The Ecologist, Oct. 6)
Georgia's Foreign Ministry on Aug. 20 protested a violation of the country's airspace by a Russian military helicopter near the border with the contested South Ossetia enclave. The incursion came as Russia is carrying out military exercises in the border zone, and is accused by Georgia of having unilaterally moved border markers last month. On July 10, Russian troops reportedly placed new demarcation signposts along the de facto boundary between Russian-controlled South Ossetia, which was separated from Georgia in the 2008 war, and Tbilisi-controlled territory. Critically, the newly seized territory includes a kilometer-long section of the Baku-Supsa pipeline, which brings oil from Azerbaijan to BP's Supsa terminal in Georgia. Russia is among a handful of countries that have recognized the "independence" of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Both of the breakaway regions rely heavily on military and financial aid from Russia, which does not allow European Union monitors to access either enclave. (InterFax, Aug. 20; RFE/RL, Aug. 19; BBC News, Aug. 10)