The UK government is set to face a fresh challenge in the courts over plans to award up to 130 new licences for North Sea oil and gas exploration.
At least three campaign groups have written to the UK business secretary, Grant Shapps explaining the grounds on which they consider the latest offshore oil and gas licensing round to be unlawful. They are arguing that new oil and gas exploration and development is incompatible with the UK’s own rules and international climate obligations and call for the decision to award the new licenses to be reversed.
Ministers are also expected to face a legal challenge soon after last week’s decision to open the UK’s first coalmine for 30 years, at Whitehaven in Cumbria.
The UK government has been accused of attempting to justify unnecessary fossil fuel expansion on the basis that the production facilities would not produce much carbon dioxide, rather than examining the impacts of burning the fuel produced, by Phil Evans, an oil and gas campaigner at Greenpeace after ministers claimed the Cumbrian mine would be “net zero” in terms of greenhouse gases from the mining the coal, but this ignores the emissions from burning the coal produced.
Also, the North Sea oil and gas expansion has been defended as necessary to solve the UK’s energy crisis, but little new gas is likely to be produced for the next decade at least and will not reduce UK gas prices.
“When it comes to carbon, our planning system has a major blind spot,” said Evans. “Ministers keep greenlighting new fossil fuel projects without fully considering the climate-wrecking emissions from burning those fuels. That’s completely irresponsible. It’s like giving an unlit cigarette a quick sniff and concluding that it can’t do much harm.”
Speaking further, he said, “New coal, oil and gas produced in the UK will do nothing to help lower energy bills, but they will fuel more deadly storms, rising seas, floods and droughts around the world,” he said. “If the UK government wants to retain a shred of credibility on climate, they should stop setting off new climate timebombs and get serious about investing in the solutions. If they don’t, we are ready to challenge them in court.”
The three letters before action were sent separately by Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Uplift, a campaign against North Sea oil and gas, on Monday. Greenpeace is also seeking a judicial review of the government’s licensing round.
The letters, the first step to a legal challenge, are separate from challenges already underway against the Horse Hill oil project in Surrey, the Jackdaw gas field in the North Sea, and the government’s promise of $1bn (£820m) in finance for a gas megaproject in Mozambique.
A spokesperson for the government told the Guardian: “While we cannot comment on ongoing legal proceedings, it’s vital we continue to maintain our energy security, by boosting our homegrown energy supply and strengthening our domestic resilience.”
The UK’s decision to press ahead with new licences in the North Sea, begun earlier this year under Kwasi Kwarteng’s term as business secretary and continued by his successor, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has dismayed international climate experts.
Story was adapted from the UK Guardian.