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Campaigners approved to take UK Government to court on North Sea oil plans

© Chris Ratcliffe/BloombergUK Government court oil
Mobile offshore drilling units stand in the Port of Cromarty Firth.

A group of climate campaigners have received approval to take the UK Government to the High Court over its North Sea oil plans.

In May, Paid for Pollute, backed by the non-profit Uplift and several other groups including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, applied for a judicial review into the UK Government’s support for the Oil and Gas Authority’s (OGA) new strategy.

The campaign group claims that the OGA and the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is illegally supporting oil and gas activity which is “not economic” and in conflict with net zero goals.

In a High Court order, Mrs Justice Thornton granted permission to take the UK Government to court over the North Sea oil strategy, stating the claimants had “presented an arguable case” which was “in the public interest”.

However, she added, “this is a technical and complex field which a layperson, including the Judge, cannot fully understand without the benefit of expert evidence”.

The new OGA strategy came into force in February and defined what is “economically recoverable” on a “pre-tax” basis.

Paid for Pollute argues that this supports activity which would not be economic without tax rebates applied to the industry, particularly for decommissioning.

The industry argues that decom relief does not constitute a subsidy but a “legitimate cost of doing business”.

Unlike Denmark, which parcels out decom relief throughout production life of a field, the UK only applies rebates once production stops, meaning the figures can go into the millions dating back years.

Meanwhile, the industry argues that reducing oil and gas activity in the UK would see further reliance on imported fuel which carries a heavier carbon footprint.

The case is expected to be heard before the end of the year with a decision in early 2022.

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