Oil Giant Taken to Court Over Threats to Providence Waterfront

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — The Conservation Law Foundation is again taking legal action against a major oil and gas company for failing to address climate change at a major New England port.

On June 28, the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) announced that it will sue the Shell Oil Co., based in Houston and the Netherlands, for not safeguarding its massive oil tank-storage facility on Providence Harbor from the effects of climate change.

“With just one severe storm — one major flood — the Providence River and surrounding communities could be inundated with toxic substances, yet Shell has done nothing to safeguard us from this fate. It’s time they be held accountable for this grave inaction," CLF president Bradley Campbell said.

The lawsuit alleges that the 25-tank facility and rail and marine terminal on Allens Avenue threatens upper Narragansett Bay and nearby communities by failing to safeguard the terminal from sea-level rise, storm surge and increased precipitation.

Tanks on the property store gasoline, diesel, ethanol, fuel oil and jet fuel. According to federal flood maps, the site is within a flood zone.

“The location, elevation, and lack of preventative infrastructure at the Terminal make it especially vulnerable,” according to CLF.

Shell didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

CLF's notice of intent to file suit outlines how the tank farm has expanded 368 feet into the river since 1939, thereby exacerbating the effects of higher seas and stronger storms. It also sites comments by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that describes the Port of Providence and nearby waterfront areas as “the Achilles’ heel of the Northeast due to its vulnerability to flooding.” A recent University of Rhode Island review found an increased likelihood of more powerful storms striking the region.

Flooding, runoff and storm surges threaten to spread hazardous waste into groundwater, the soil of nearby neighborhoods and upper Narragansett Bay, according to CLF.

This is the second such lawsuit by CLF. In September 2016, the legal advocacy group filed a similar lawsuit against ExxonMobil for failing to safeguard its waterfront terminal outside Boston. Both lawsuits say the oil conglomerates have delayed acting on climate-change threats and therefore violate the federal Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

The latest lawsuit will be filed in U.S District Court in downtown Providence.