The US state of California is suing several major oil companies, accusing them of misleading the public about the risks of their products. The companies have known for decades that dependence on fossil fuels could have “catastrophic consequences,” according to the civil lawsuit filed Friday.

She cites the climate crisis as a consequence. “In 2023 alone, the state of California has experienced both extreme drought and widespread flooding, widespread wildfires and historic storms, as well as an unusually cold spring and record-breaking hot summer.” All of this causes billions of dollars in damage.

Lawsuit against Exxon, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP

There are similar lawsuits in some other US states. However, California is a major oil and gas producer, and the state’s prosecutors have a track record of groundbreaking cases, wrote the New York Times. The lawsuit is directed against Exxon, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and BP as well as the interest group American Petroleum Institute. The companies reject the allegations or have not yet commented when asked by US media.

“We do not believe that the courtroom is the right place to address climate change,” Shell said in a statement. Instead, “smart government policies and measures from all sectors” are needed. CNN quoted a statement from Chevron: “Climate change is a global problem that requires a coordinated international political response, not a (…) lawsuit for the benefit of lawyers and politicians.” The American Petroleum Institute emphasized that the civil suit was a “sustained, coordinated campaign” against an essential American industry and its workers.

The state of California, on the other hand, argues that the oil companies should pay for the costs they caused. In addition, fines would have to be imposed because the public had been lied to. “For more than 50 years, (the oil industry) has been lying to us and covering up the fact that it has long known how dangerous the fossil fuels it produces are to our planet,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom.