Greenpeace sues Scotland over new BP offshore drilling permit

By Katharine Gemmell on 9/1/2021

(Bloomberg) --The UK government was accused in court of failing its legal duty to check for climate impacts, after it awarded BP Plc a permit to drill for 30 million barrels of oil in the North Sea.

Greenpeace asked judges in Scotland’s Court of Session to overturn the government’s decision to grant BP a permit for the Vorlich oil field, at the beginning of a two day hearing. 

Greenpeace argued that the UK Government and the Oil and Gas Authority, the industry regulator, failed to properly inform the public about the permit and allow for challenges to be made on climate grounds.

“There has been a myriad of failure in the public consultation exercise requirements,” Ruth Crawford, Greenpeace’s lawyer, said at the Edinburgh hearing on Wednesday. “The Secretary of State has been deprived of information which could have been relevant and material to the decision.”

The case is the latest in a growing number of climate litigation cases where activists are trying to hold governments and polluters to account for their failure to tackle climate change.

BP was granted approval to proceed with its 200 million-pound ($275 million) Vorlich development project by the Oil and Gas Authority in 2018.

The suit comes amid concerns over a proposal for oil wells at Cambo oil field in the North Sea, which has become the target of criticism by climate activists. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called on the UK government to reconsider oil and gas licenses, after facing mounting pressure to lead on climate change ahead of UN global climate talks in Glasgow.

Lawyers for BP and Ithaca Energy, which has a 34% interest in Vorlich, said in court documents prepared for the hearing that “there was no failure in assessment of climate change from the consumption of the oil and gas produced from the field.”

A spokesperson from BP declined to comment.

Greenpeace will also argue that the government failed to assess how much flaring, the controlled burning of natural gas, would take place as a result of the permit being granted, according to a statement from Greenpeace. It added that the license for the Vorlich field was granted in 1981, when no obligations or legislation existed to regulate climate impacts.

A spokesperson at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy declined to comment on the lawsuit.

“However, whilst the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels continues to fall, advice from the independent Climate Change Committee is that we cannot have a cliff-edge where oil and gas are abandoned overnight,” the spokesperson said.

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