The state of Minnesota has filed a lawsuit against the oil and gas industry, including ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute. API represents the entire industry, and this lawsuit seeks to hold the industry accountable for its devastating impacts on Minnesotans.
These corporate polluters lied about their climate and environmental impacts, leaving Minnesotans to pay for it. This new effort to hold Big Oil accountable follows Minnesota’s previous leadership in holding Big Tobacco accountable for its public health impacts.
Fifty-plus years of ExxonMobil documents show that its scientists studied the greenhouse effect. ExxonMobil knew its products would create global warming with potentially catastrophic consequences. Despite raising its own oil rigs due to rising sea levels, it spent $30 million on propaganda advertisements, deceptive front organizations, and fabricated science, a research project by GreenPeace discovered. This disinformation seemed a concerted effort to protect ExxonMobil’s profits from progressive climate policies needed to keep Minnesotans safe.
Koch Industries operates Minnesota’s largest oil refinery in Rosemount. Koch is the second-largest private corporation in the U.S., making billions every year from oil and toxic petrochemicals. The Koch Family Foundation has spent $127 million directly financing groups that spread climate denial and deception. It is behind one of the largest dark-money networks influencing our politicians — and lying to Americans.
Minnesota communities are already footing a multibillion-dollar bill to protect our homes, families, jobs, economies, infrastructure, and health from extreme weather and environmental pollution caused by the oil and gas industry. The effects include higher utility bills, increased insurance premiums, infrastructure costs, environmental cleanups, and costlier medical care.
Direct impacts from fossil-fuel infrastructure also pose a threat to different regions of Minnesota. Oil and gas extraction via fracking is a hazardous technique that utilizes a silica substance known as “frac sand.” This material comes from mines in southeastern Minnesota, where multiple counties have banned this practice due to impacts on local air and water quality. Furthermore, the fracking process results in unaccounted methane emissions, and this is incentivized by gas power plants that Minnesota still permits to operate.
Minnesota has already spent millions adapting to the climate crisis, and that is expected to increase exponentially if we don’t take serious action. Extreme weather has impacted every region of the state. Flooding has devastated southeastern Minnesota, and air-quality alerts have forced people in the Twin Cities area and central Minnesota to stay indoors. Minnesota has recently been hit hard by both extreme heat waves and polar vortices. These multi-day events are more frequent and intense due to climate change from the oil and gas industry and can have deadly impacts for Minnesotans.
Most importantly, corporate polluters rely on pipelines to transport toxic fuels across Minnesota. There’s no such thing as a safe pipeline, due to leaks, spills, and explosions. More than 130 incidents have been reported in Minnesota since 2002, according to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. In 1991, the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history occurred near Grand Rapids, where an Enbridge pipeline spilled 1.7 million gallons. Now Enbridge wants to construct a tar sands oil pipeline along a new route through the pristine waterways of northern Minnesota. In addition to water pollution, it can be estimated that Line 3 would single-handedly take up 1% of Earth’s carbon budget from the Paris Agreement.
Minnesota climate activists applaud the leadership of the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office for taking to court to hold corporate polluters accountable for their misinformation and pollution. This is a prudent and necessary step toward reducing oil- and gas-industry impacts on Minnesota taxpayers.
However, more action is needed to reduce the worst impacts of the climate crisis and environmental degradation. The attorney general’s office must continue down this responsible path by seeking an injunction to halt construction of the Line 3 Replacement Project.
Ella Johnson of Minneapolis is a climate activist and a volunteer for the climate-solutions nonprofit MN350 (mn350.org). She wrote this for the News Tribune.