The firm behind a controversial coal mine in West Cumbria and the UK atmosphere regulator are each intervening in a separate court docket battle over plans to pump oil within the Surrey countryside.
Next month’s Supreme Court case about whether or not to extract about three million tonnes of oil from Horse Hill is considered a check case that would carry the “beginning of the end” of recent fossil gas manufacturing within the UK.
The web site, close to Gatwick, was first permitted by Surrey County Council in 2019 however has confronted a authorized problem by campaigners ever since, and can subsequent month go earlier than the UK’s highest court docket.
Unusually, the Supreme Court has permitted 4 further our bodies to intervene – which means they’ll make written or oral submissions to assist the court docket’s understanding, reflecting the general public significance of the case.
One of these weighing in is West Cumbria Mining, whose plan to develop the UK’s first new coal mine in 30 years in Whitehaven was controversially permitted by the federal government in December.
WCM didn’t reply to a request to touch upon why it had intervened.
But if the campaigner’s attraction towards the Surrey oil web site wins subsequent month, it may very well be “that you have to completely reassess whether that coal mine in Cumbria can happen at all”, based on barrister Sam Fowles.
“It is extremely difficult to overstate the significance of this case,” stated Mr Fowles, who specialises in planning and atmosphere regulation at Cornerstone Barristers.
It has the potential set off the “beginning of the end of … new fossil fuel extraction in the UK going forward”, he added.
The authorities is because of decide imminently on the large Rosebank oil and fuel area within the North Sea.
Charles McAllister, director of trade group UK Onshore Oil and Gas, referred to as it “incontrovertible” that the UK wants some oil and fuel past 2050, “even with huge growth in renewables”.
“It’s a case of where we got it from, not if we need or not.”
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‘Clear ramifications’ for future initiatives
Both the Cumbria coal mine and the Surrey oil case hinge on the identical thorny subject plaguing planning authorities presiding over fossil gas initiatives.
The query is whether or not their assessments of the venture’s injury to the atmosphere must think about solely the emissions from getting the fossil gas out of the bottom, or additionally from when it is used or burned later “downstream”.
These are often called “scope 3” emissions and have a tendency to make up nearly all of a venture’s or firm’s greenhouse gases. Fossil fuels are the principle reason behind local weather change, which is already threatening the UK through issues like rising sea ranges and final summer time’s intense drought.
Both the Cumbria coal mine and the Horse Hill oil web site have been permitted partly on the premise that these “downstream” emissions needn’t be taken into consideration, and due to this fact total emissions could be low.
Sarah Finch, the lead campaigner difficult the oil choice, informed Sky News: “More than 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide could be released when the oil from Horse Hill is ultimately burned.”
Katie de Kauwe, a lawyer at campaigning group Friends of the Earth, which can be intervening, stated: “It can’t be right that the biggest impacts of fossil fuel projects on people and our planet can effectively be left out when planning decisions are made.
“This is a vastly consequential authorized problem that would have clear ramifications for different fossil gas developments, together with the brand new coal mine deliberate in West Cumbria and the legality of the Secretary of State’s choice to approve it.
“West Cumbria Mining is clearly concerned, which is why they’re intervening.”
Ms Finch’s preliminary problem within the High Court was thrown out. But she took it to the following court docket, the Court of Appeal, the place the three judges have been break up, with one agreeing she had some extent however the majority saying it was a matter for planning authorities quite than the court docket.
But that creates an enormous downside, based on the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) – the UK atmosphere watchdog arrange after Brexit in 2021 – which is, for the primary time, intervening in a Supreme Court case.
“It means that local planning authorities could reach entirely different conclusions on an important issue of principle on essentially the same facts,” it stated in its submission to the court docket, leaving the regulation “in an unpredictable state with potentially capricious results”.
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“If it is successful, which I don’t think it will be, it will set a precedent,” stated Charles McAllister from UKOOG.
If the campaigners win, it might have “far-reaching implications beyond the onshore oil and gas industry, ranging from the offshore oil and gas industry, mining, metals, manufacturing, aviation”, he warned.
The Horse Hill web site would extract round 200,000 barrels of oil over 25 years, which may very well be used to energy jets, create electrical energy or warmth properties. The UK produces about a million barrels of oil a day.
Independent authorities local weather advisers from the CCC have stated the UK will want some oil till 2050, although it’s “not clear-cut” whether or not it ought to produce extra domestically.
The International Energy Agency has stated no new fossil gas venture is suitable with the globally accepted purpose of limiting warming to 1.5C.
UK Oil and Gas, the principle builders of Horse Hill, declined to remark.
A spokesperson for Surrey County Council stated it’s “required to determine planning applications in accordance with the Development Plan, the National Planning Policy Framework, national policy and other material considerations, as set out in legislation and case law.
“The County Council will current its case to the Supreme Court, which is able to subject a call sooner or later.”
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