UK High Court dismisses legal challenge to expansion of new licenses for oil and gas exploration News
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UK High Court dismisses legal challenge to expansion of new licenses for oil and gas exploration

The UK High Court in London ruled Thursday that the UK North Sea Transition Authority’s decision to authorize exploration of the North Sea for more sources of oil and gas was legal. Greenpeace and Uplift, two UK non-governmental organizations (NGOs), filed an appeal of the authority’s decision, arguing that the failure to fully examine its environmental impact potentially rendered it unlawful.

The NGOs based their submissions to the court on five primary issues. First, they argued that “the Secretary of State was obliged to assess the likely significant effects of the Offshore Energy Plan on the environment.” Second, they argued that the Secretary of the State had not fully fulfilled her obligation to analyze alternatives to the plan. Third, the NGOs argued that the Secretary of State’s decision to not include “test 5” in her evaluation was wrong. “Test 5” includes the consideration of international emissions with regard to global warming expectations. Fourth, they argued that there was no consideration of the rationality of omitting this test and the motivation behind it. Fifth, the questioned the lawfulness of the Secretary of State’s decision not to publish any reasons for her decision to not pursue the test. There were two further issues but these were discussed more briefly and failed in line with the five discussed above.

The court found that the claim that the granting of further licenses is incompatible with achieving the UK’s net zero target was “plainly… a matter of judgment and not law.” It also found that most of the Secretary of State’s obligations, as referred to by the NGOs, were not statutory and therefore not enforceable by the courts.

Within the UK government, Business and Energy Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg endorsed the authority’s decision, stating, “Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine means it is now more important than ever that we make the most of sovereign energy resources, strengthening our energy security now and into the future.” Former Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps echoed those comments, stating, “In the wake of Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine, our energy security is more important than ever. The North Sea is at the heart of our plan to power up Britain from Britain so that tyrants like Putin can never again use energy as a weapon to blackmail us.”

Greenpeace has said that they plan to appeal Thursday’s ruling. A climate campaigner with Greenpeace, Philip Evans, told Reuters, “If you told most people that the government is allowed to approve new oil and gas while ignoring 80% of the emissions it would produce, they simply wouldn’t believe you.” He continued, “This is completely irresponsible behaviour from ministers during a climate crisis.”