Conservation Law Foundation alleges that Shell is aware of the climate impacts endangering Providence TerminalShell has not properly protected its Providence Terminal from climate impacts, Conservation Law Foundation alleges in a lawsuit. Photo credit: Google Maps via CLF
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By Karen Savage

A lawsuit against Shell for failing to protect its Providence Terminal from the impacts of climate change will be allowed to continue with the addition of a new claim and two new defendants, a judge ruled on Tuesday.

In the ruling, U.S. District Court Judge William Edward Smith approved a motion by the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), an environmental law and advocacy group, to amend its complaint to add another hazardous waste claim and to add two Shell subsidiaries, Triton Terminaling and Equilon, to the suit. Royal Dutch Shell, the parent company based in the Netherlands, was dismissed because is no longer listed on the facility’s permits, but could be brought back in at a later date.

“The Shell terminal in Providence is poised for disaster,” said Chris Kilian, CLF’s vice president of strategic litigation. “It will take only one significant storm to inundate this facility and release toxic chemicals into surrounding waters and neighborhoods.”

CLF first filed suit against Shell in 2017, alleging the oil giant has known for decades about the dangers of not protecting its facilities from the growing risks associated with climate change. It also claims Shell is violating the conditions of its Clean Water Act permits by failing to prevent and monitor unlawful discharges of pollution into the river and is failing to adequately plan for increasing amounts of stormwater runoff caused by climate change.

The complaint also alleges that Shell’s Providence Terminal, which is located at the head of Narragansett Bay and sits directly in harm’s way as sea level rises and storms become more extreme, is in violation of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which regulates hazardous waste.

Shell did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but in earlier court filings, the company opposed the addition of the new hazardous waste claim. It did not oppose the addition of defendants Triton and Equilon, which were added to the complaint as a result of corporate restructuring.

Documents unearthed last year by Jelmer Mommers, a climate and energy journalist for the Dutch news organization De Correspondent, appear to support CLF’s allegations.

An internal, confidential report, “The Greenhouse Effect,” shows that Shell has known for decades about the risks posed to its facilities by climate change. The report was based on a study completed in 1986 and lists several climate change-related implications for the energy industry, including risks to coastal facilities from rising seas. It acknowledged that climate change risks “could have major business implications for the fossil fuel industry.”

Documents also show that internally Shell predicted 20 years that it, along with the rest of the fossil fuel industry and perhaps the U.S. government could be held liable for not acting to prevent further climate damage.

CLF maintains that although Shell internally understood the risks of climate change, it ignored those risks and has not taken adequate action to protect its facility or local residents. 

“Shell has failed to protect this terminal from the well-known impacts of climate change and we will continue our fight to protect the community,”  Kilian said. 

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