(Oct 7, 2021) Greenpeace’s legal action to block production from the Ithaca Energy and BP Vorlich oilfield in the North Sea has been turned down by Scotland’s highest court in a decision strongly welcomed by OGUK, which represents the UK’s offshore oil and gas industry.
Development of the field, estimated to hold about 30m barrels of oil, was approved by the government in 2018. It lies 240km east of Aberdeen in the central North Sea. It was developed by BP in partnership with Ithaca Energy at a cost of £230m and has been producing oil for nine months already.
Greenpeace wanted to halt production, arguing that failures in the public consultation process deprived it of the opportunity to object to the original application.
The judgment, by Lord Carloway, Lord Justice General of Scotland, head of the Scottish judiciary, was hailed by OGUK as a victory for common sense and, more practically, for the UK’s energy security.
The ruling, given in writing, rejected Greenpeace’s claim that a lack of warning about the development application for Vorlich gave it no chance to object. “As a leading environmental watchdog [Greenpeace] ought to have been well aware of the legal mechanisms available in order to mount a challenge. They did not use these mechanisms.”
Lord Carloway also dismissed Greenpeace’s claims that allowing fields like Vorlich to produce oil and gas would boost consumption and so accelerate climate change. He said: “It is not maintained that the exploitation of the Vorlich field would increase, or even maintain, the current level of consumption. Unless it did so, it is difficult to argue that it would have any material effect on climate change.”
The ruling also said that decisions on whether to allow such developments were political and so should not be decided by courts. “These are matters for decision at a relatively high level of Government, rather than by the court … The issue is essentially a political and not a legal one.”
Michael Tholen, OGUK’s sustainability director, said: “This is a victory for common sense and for the UK’s energy security. If the ruling had gone the other way, it would have generated uncertainty among the hundreds of companies involved in producing the nation’s oil and gas. They might spend millions of pounds on getting a new oil or gas field licenced only to see it revoked by a court action.
“Such a ruling would make them far less willing to invest in new fields, leading directly to a sharp decline in the UK’s oil and gas production and making the UK more reliant on imports. The current crisis in global gas supplies and resulting price rises shows clearly the risks of increasing our reliance on other countries.
“The UK’s offshore oil and gas industry is actively supporting efforts to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions and achieve net zero emissions by 2050. We agree that reducing demand for oil and gas is essential to achieving that.
“Right now, however, the UK gets 73% of its total energy from those fuels. There are 23m homes heated by gas which also generates 40% of our electricity. We also have 32m vehicles that need petrol or diesel. Cutting off our own indigenous supplies before we have reduced such demands will just make us more reliant on imports. That would undermine our own energy security without cutting emissions.”