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Shell in Hot Water for Playing Dumb in Rhode Island’s ‘Ticking Time Bomb’ Lawsuit

Posted by John Donovan: 9 Dec 2023

Over in Rhode Island, the courtroom’s getting hotter than a summer day in the Sahara, and Shell Oil is the star of the show. In a dazzling performance of corporate amnesia, Shell’s lawyers are shrugging off basic questions about the company’s involvement in its terminal at the Port of Providence. It’s like they’ve suddenly forgotten who’s in charge of not turning the area into an environmental disaster zone.

The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), not to be outdone by Shell’s memory loss, filed a lawsuit back in 2017. They’re accusing Shell of basically rolling out the red carpet for flooding and other climate change-related party crashers at its petroleum storage terminal. CLF isn’t new to this rodeo; they’ve been roping in big oil facilities across Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

Darrèll Brown from CLF, probably while looking anxiously at the sky, said, “These facilities are ticking time bombs.” He’s picturing every raindrop or storm turning Narragansett Bay into a toxic pool party, courtesy of Shell’s toxins.

At the heart of this environmental thriller is Shell’s 75-acre property, home to 25 petroleum storage tanks sitting pretty in a flood zone. These tanks aren’t just for show; they’re busy discharging petroleum and other feel-bad chemicals into the Providence River whenever it rains.

Last December, Shell’s Providence terminal had its own underwater adventure, making CLF’s lawsuit seem less like a fictional tale and more like a preview of coming attractions. Brown ominously added, “We’ve not had a big storm here yet, but that’s just a matter of time.”

Shell’s legal team, in a move that would make Houdini proud, argues that their responses to CLF’s questions are more than enough. They’re calling CLF’s demands for more info an “impermissible fishing expedition.” Because, of course, asking for clarity in a potential environmental catastrophe is totally out of line.

Shell’s defense boils down to, “We’ve answered enough, and your questions are irrelevant and expensive.” It’s like they’re saying, “Can’t you see you’re bothering us with your concerns about the planet?”

Since 2017, CLF’s lawsuit has dodged two attempts by Shell to dismiss it. But U.S. District Court Judge William E. Smith, in a plot twist, ruled that CLF can’t sue over long-term impacts like an 8-foot sea level rise over the next century. They can only fuss over the near-term impacts of climate change. It’s like saying, “You can only complain about the smoke, not the fire.”

Meanwhile, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management is finally waking up to the smells and odors wafting from the Port of Providence, pledging to crack down on polluting industries. It’s about time, considering the residents of nearby neighborhoods have been putting up with more than just bad smells.

So, as Shell plays the “who, me?” card in court, the folks in Washington Park and South Providence are left dealing with the real-life consequences of having an oil giant for a neighbor. Asthma and poor air quality are just part of the package deal when you live next to Shell’s version of environmental stewardship.

Disclaimer: We’re all about getting the story right, especially when it involves Shell’s shenanigans. If we’ve missed the mark, let us know. In the saga of energy giants vs. the everyday Joe, accuracy isn’t just a nice-to-have – it’s a must-have.

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