Oil project must count full climate impact

Environmental Policies, Legal action

Oil project must count full climate impact was the Supreme Court in London’s ruling on 20th June that a local council should have considered the full climate impact of burning oil from new wells. This could be a landmark decision, putting future UK oil and gas projects in question, including the Whitehaven and Rosebank projects which have already been approved.

Under planning law the assumption has always been that only the impacts from constructing the wells and not the use of the final oil products should be considered. The case brought against Surrey County Council by Sarah Finch, on behalf of campaigners of the Weald Action Group, could threaten new UK fossil fuels projects given that this oil project must count full climate impact.

The council said it believed at the time it had followed planning law.

The Supreme Court judges did not rule that Surrey County Council should reject the proposal for new oil wells but that it should have considered the downstream emissions.

While this precedent for taking emissions from products like oil into account does not stop new drilling it is something companies will have to consider when looking at new projects. So it would be quite possible for the application to be resubmitted to Surry County Council, taking into account the impact of long term emissions.

However, the ruling may also have an impact on the Government’s policy of maximising oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, initially through the ongoing granting of hundreds of new oil and gas licences in July 2023 and in an ongoing annual commitment to grant more. See more on that story here.

The Supreme Court judgement was agreed by a three-to-two majority. Summing up the case Lord Leggatt said it was “inevitable” that oil from the site will be burned, and the resulting greenhouse emissions were “straightforwardly results of the project” which should be considered.

The six wells at Horse Hill are expected to produce 3.3 million tonnes of crude oil over the next 20 years. Burning that oil would produce over 10 million tonnes of CO2, the environmental campaigning organisation Friends of the Earth has estimated.

More on this story here.