The modern world was built with oil and other fossil fuels. The dominance of these fuels created politically powerful companies with enormous influence. Oil companies are among the most profitable corporate entities in the world, with wealth that rivals that of national economies. At a time when humanity increasingly recognizes that extracting, storing, and burning oil cause severe damage to our environment, oil companies use their power to block meaningful changes to our energy system.
There are subtle signs, however, that Big Oil’s power is weakening. Demand for fossil fuels is declining while renewable power is getting cheaper and more abundant. The stock values of the largest oil and gas companies have plummeted over the last decade. Grassroots activism is reducing the expansion of new oil projects. And communities are using novel legal approaches to pursue litigation against fossil fuel companies.
Taking on Big Oil requires a big law firm. Morgan & Morgan, the nation’s largest plaintiffs’ firm, litigates a variety of cases against oil companies that pollute the environment and cause climate change. We are dedicated to fighting for the planet, against the powerful.
Oil Spill Litigation
Large oil spills, like the 2010 spill from BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, caused widespread and long-lasting damage. The Deepwater Horizon spill contaminated 68,000 square miles of sea surface, 1,100 miles of coastline, and 1,200 miles of ocean floor. It killed an estimated 1 million seabirds, 5,000 marine mammals, and 1,000 sea turtles and caused immense damage to local fishing and tourism industries.
The Gulf of Mexico oil spill led to the largest environmental damage settlement in U.S. history—$20.8 billion. Part of the settlement went towards compensating businesses and individuals affected by the spill. A Morgan & Morgan attorney was one of fifteen attorneys selected to serve on the Plaintiff’s Steering Committee to handle the litigation.
Most oil spills result from accidents at wells or on the pipelines, ships, trains, and trucks that transport oil from wells to refineries. Smaller oil spills don’t always make headlines the way large spills do, but they can also be damaging to ecosystems, wildlife, property values, and human health. Large and small spills are common in oil-producing states. According to the Center for Western Priorities, there were 2,179 spills in Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico in 2020.
After the Exxon Valdez oil spill catastrophe, Congress passed the Oil Spill Protection Act of 1990 to address oil spill accidents. Some states have their own oil spill laws. New York’s Oil Spill Law, for example, holds strictly liable anyone who discharges petroleum without a permit. The law covers even very small spills, such as those from home heating oil tanks.
Leaking Underground Storage Tanks Litigation
Underground storage tanks are used to store gasoline and oil, which contain dangerous substances, including benzene, toluene, and heavy metals. Approximately 500,000 – 600,000 underground storage tanks nationwide store petroleum or hazardous substances that can harm the environment and human health if their contents are released. Underground storage tanks are regulated by the EPA, but some states have requirements that are more stringent than federal regulations. Per EPA rules, storage tanks must be registered and meet leak detection requirements. Owners and operators are responsible for leaks and spills.
Underground storage tanks commonly develop leaks as they age and corrode. The Sierra Club reports that thousands of new leaks are discovered in underground storage tanks each year. A leaking gasoline or oil tank can contaminate the surrounding soil, groundwater, and surface waters. Just one gallon of petroleum can contaminate a million gallons of water; a pin-prick sized hole in a tank can leak 400 gallons of fuel per year.
Leaking storage tanks damage property values and threaten the groundwater that nearly half of Americans rely on. In addition to the petroleum industry, many businesses and highway departments store gasoline, diesel fuel, and fuel oil in on-site tanks.
Kevin Hannon, who leads Morgan & Morgan’s Toxics & Environmental Litigation Group, has successfully brought cases concerning leaking underground storage tanks at gas stations and groundwater and soil contamination cases from petroleum products, including in Sanchez v. Troilo.
Climate Change Litigation
Climate change is one of the most severe challenges facing our planet. Human activity is already responsible for warming the planet by 1° Celsius compared to pre-industrial times. Climate change-fueled extreme weather is producing record droughts, storms, wildfires, and flooding. To prevent additional warming, we must address fossil fuel emissions—the top contributing factor to climate change—at their source.
Since 1988, just 100 companies have produced more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to a recent Carbon Majors Report. More than half of global industrial emissions can be traced to 25 fossil fuel producers. Oil giants ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, and Chevron are among the highest emitting companies. If these companies continue to extract fossil fuels at the same pace, experts predict that the associated warming will be catastrophic.
Fighting Big Oil and climate change involves more than keeping fossil fuels in the ground. It also involves holding companies accountable for the harm they’ve already caused. Communities across the country are filing lawsuits against oil companies demanding that they pay their fair share of the costs of climate change. Our Kevin Hannon is currently suing Suncor Energy and ExxonMobil on behalf of Boulder County, Colorado and the City of Boulder. These communities say that, over the next three decades, they will face an estimated $100 million in costs to deal with climate change impacts.
Morgan & Morgan founder John Morgan chose Kevin to lead the firm’s environmental practice with the express intent of taking on the companies that contribute to climate change. “We are at a turning point in history—will we be able to hold corporations' feet to the fire to stem off the tide of global warming? Kevin will be a part of ensuring that companies who continue to abuse our planet and our communities will pay," said Morgan.
For the People, For the Planet
For more than 30 years, Morgan & Morgan has represented the people, against the powerful. Our Toxics and Environmental Litigation Group recognizes the historical moment we are in. Bold action and creative solutions are needed to protect our climate, environment, and health. With over 700 attorneys and $10 billion in recoveries, we have the strength to take on Big Oil and fight for the planet, against the powerful.