Aerial image of Exxonmobil facility

ExxonMobile's Everett terminal and USGS-predicted hurricane flood zones

Credit: US Geological Water Resources

U.S. Court Allows Suit Alleging ExxonMobil's Everett Tank Farm Is A Hazard To Proceed

September 12, 2017

A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that a Massachusetts environmental group has sufficient legal standing to proceed with a so-called citizen lawsuit filed against oil and gas giant ExxonMobil. 
 
U.S. District Judge Mark L. Wolf made the ruling after considering a motion by ExxonMobil to dismiss the lawsuit. 
 
The plaintiff, nonprofit Conservation Law Foundation, or CLF, claims that ExxonMobil has ignored requirements to prevent its oil storage and transfer site in Everett from discharging pollutants into the Mystic in heavy weather. 
 
The ExxonMobil oil terminal and storage facility in Everett is regulated by federal (EPA) and state (MassDEP) authorities, but federal environmental laws allow citizens and civilian groups, like CLF, to sue if they believe that authorities have failed to enforce the law. 
 
The timing of Tuesday's hearing, just days after Hurricane Irma pummeled Florida and the Atlantic South -- and after a Houston-area chemical plant exploded during Hurricane Harvey -- is essentially coincidental: the lawsuit was filed by CLF one year ago. 
 
But the recent storms loomed over the proceedings anyway. 
 
Lawyers for ExxonMobil have moved to have the case dismissed and argued that the Everett facility is compliant with its EPA-issued permit and that CLF has no legal standing to force the company to make changes to it. 
 
The case is unrelated to the high-profile investigation of ExxonMobil by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey into whether the company mislead the public as to the impact of fossil fuels on the climate. 
 
In a seventy-plus page complaint, CLF argues that the Everett facility has discharged pollutants into the Mystic River in violation of federally-permitted levels hundreds of times, and that ExxonMobil has failed to engineer the facility, which sits in a Hurricane-prone flood zone, to be able to prevent illegal discharges in the kind of severe weather events scientists link to climate change. 
 
Judge Wolf was skeptical of some of these claims, asking repeatedly whether CLF could show a threat to citizens that was immediate or "immanent," -- and not fifty or one hundred years in the future. 
 
Attorney Daniel Toal, representing ExxonMobil, characterized CLF as demanding that the company adopt to hypothetical scenarios that are not required by its permit, which must be renewed periodically and approved by the EPA. 
 
But CLF lawyer Allan Kanner said that discharge records for the facility maintained by ExxonMobil and environmental officials show that the facility has already been unable or unwilling to prevent illegal levels of pollutants from entering the Mystic River.
 


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