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Greenpeace loses court battle to block North Sea oilfield

Activist group Greenpeace has lost its court battle to block production from the Ithaca Energy and BP Vorlich oilfield in the North Sea.

Greenpeace took the UK Government and the Oil and Gas Authority, along with both oil firms, to the Court of Session in Edinburgh, contesting that permits had been granted illegally without taking climate impacts into account.

Following the two-day hearing last month, the court has issued a written judgement dismissing the case.

The litigation had been considered an important test of whether further UK fields, such as Cambo, Rosebank and Clair South, could be blocked.

In his ruling, Lord President Lord Calloway said: “It would not be practicable… to conduct a wide ranging examination into the effects, local or global, of the use of that fuel by the final consumer.”

He also highlighted the continued reliance on fossil fuels by society, particularly given the current energy crisis.

“Although the appellants’ aspiration is for such extraction to cease, it does not appear to be contended that the UK economy is not still reliant in a number of different ways on the consumption of oil and gas.

“At present, a shortage of oil and gas supplies is a matter of public concern.”

Greenpeace has vowed to press ahead with an appeal.

The decision comes just weeks ahead of the crucial COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, with Greenpeace accusing the government of going against climate science.

The organisation’s UK executive director John Sauven said: “In just a few weeks’ time Boris Johnson will be opening global climate talks where his actions, not his words, will be what counts.

“And right now his actions are covered in oil. We will not give up the fight for the climate. Our intention is to appeal this ruling before the Supreme Court.”

The court case is the latest effort from the group to block Vorlich, which lies 150miles east of Aberdeen,  including a 12-day rig protest in 2019.

Industry argues that cutting off domestic oil and gas projects will increase reliance on imports with a higher carbon footprint, unless society can drastically reduce demand for fossil fuels.

BP was the operator of the Vorlich project through its development but handed over the reins to partner Ithaca Energy when it started up production in November 2020.

Ithaca Energy, BP, and the OGA noted the court’s decision.

A spokesperson for the UK Government said: “We welcome today’s judgment which upholds the environmental decisions made by the Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment and Decommissioning.

“While we are working hard to drive down demand for fossil fuels, there will continue to be ongoing demand for oil and gas over the coming years as we transition to lower carbon, more secure forms of energy generated in this country.”

‘Victory for common sense’

Industry body Oil and Gas UK hailed the decision, underlining the sector’s importance to energy security.

Sustainability director Mike Tholen 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.”


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