Photo: Greenpeace boat alongside the BP-chartered Transocean 'The Paul B Loyd Jr' rig en route to the Vorlich field in the North Sea. © Greenpeace

Greenpeace seeks to appeal before Supreme Court after losing against BP

Environmental group Greenpeace will be looking to appeal a decision by a UK court after losing its case against oil major BP over a permit to drill in the Vorlich oil field in the North Sea.

Greenpeace lost its court case, challenging the UK government’s decision to grant the permit to BP for the drilling on the Vorlich field. Judges in Scotland’s highest court ruled that the government’s decision to grant a permit was lawful. The case was heard before the Court of Session, the highest civil court in Scotland.

The first issue was whether BP and its partner Ithaca and the UK’s petroleum regulator OGA complied with the requirements for publicity of applications and environmental information. In addition, challenges were made related to arithmetical errors relating to greenhouse gas emissions in BP’s environmental statement and whether the environmental impact, not of the exploitation process but of the consumption thereafter of the extracted and refined oil, is a relevant consideration.

Following the ruling on Thursday, Greenpeace said it would seek to launch an appeal before the Supreme Court.

According to Greenpeace, the judges concluded that it is not possible to assess emissions that result from burning oil and gas and that it could not be argued that oil and gas have any material effect on climate change. It was also concluded that the matter is political, not legal.

John Sauven, Greenpeace UK executive director, said: “The government is celebrating a win for the fossil fuel industry after its lawyers argued in court that emissions from burning oil extracted by BP are ‘not relevant’ when granting an oil permit. And now the Prime Minister is poised to sign off even more oil if he approves a new oil field at Cambo – against official guidance from climate experts.

“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.”

In a written ruling, Lord Carloway, the Lord President, said: “It would not be practicable, in an assessment of the environmental effects of a project for the extraction of fossil fuels, for the decision-maker to conduct a wide-ranging examination into the effects, local or global, of the use of that fuel by the final consumer.”

The government has said that it plans to introduce climate compatibility checks for new licences before next year.

Referencing recent political developments, around the gas price crisis, the Lord President added: “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.”

“The argument is, in any event, an academic one. It is not maintained that the exploitation of the Vorlich field would increase, or even maintain, the current level of consumption. Unless it did so, it is difficult to argue that it would have any material effect on climate change; even if it is possible to arrive at a figure for its contribution by arithmetical calculation relative to the production of oil and gas overall.

“The Secretary of State’s submission that these are matters for decision at a relatively high level of Government, rather than either by the court or in relation to one oilfield project, is correct. The issue is essentially a political and not a legal one.”

Greenpeace in January 2019 tried to stop BP from drilling on the Vorlich field by intercepting its chartered drilling rig Paul B. Loyd, Jr. 83 miles off Scotland, forcing the rig to turn back. A number of Greenpeace activists were arrested as a result.

However, the drilling operations later continued and the Vorlich field has been producing oil since November 2020. The field has been developed through two wells with peak production at 20,000 barrels oil equivalent gross per day. Vorlich hydrocarbons are processed through Ithaca’s FPF-1 floating production facility, located around 240 kilometres east of Aberdeen.

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