Greenpeace loses case against BP over North Sea oil field drilling

Environmental group claims prime minster's actions are now 'covered in oil'

Greenpeace boat alongside the BP-chartered Transocean 'The Paul B Loyd Jr' rig en route to the Vorlich field in the North Sea. The Greenpeace ship the Arctic Sunrise has been following the BP rig as it heads to the North Sea drilling site. The rig undertook a U-turn when it arrived at the site and is heading back towards Scotland.
Greenpeace is calling on BP to halt drilling for new oil in light of the climate emergency and refocus their business on renewable energy.

Greenpeace has lost a legal challenge against the UK government's decision to allow BP to drill for oil in the North Sea.

Drilling rights to the Vorlich field off Aberdeen were granted to BP by the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) in 2018.

Lawyers for the environmental group argued there had been "a myriad of failures in the public consultation" and claimed the government gave no consideration to the climate impact of burning the fossil fuels extracted.

But Scotland's highest court, the Court of Session, on Thursday ruled in favour of the UK government, following a two-day hearing.

In his written judgment, Lord Carloway rejected Greenpeace's arguments, saying they were "overwhelmingly technical and unconvincing".

He added there was "sufficient publicity of BP's application to exploit the Vorlich field, the decisions to permit that development and the availability of an appeal to the court to challenge that decision".

He said Greenpeace, as a "leading environmental watchdog, ought to have been well aware of the legal mechanisms available in order to mount a challenge".

The campaigners argued that when the application for drilling consent was first issued they would have wanted to make representations on a number of issues, including the "failure to assess climate change and the impact of greenhouse gas emissions".

Greenpeace climbers on BP oil rig in Cromarty Firth, Scotland.
The rig is the 'Paul B Loyd Jr', owned by Transocean, and on its way to the Vorlich field where it was to be drilling new oil wells, operated by BP, paying £140,000 a day for its use. BP is the operator, Transocean the owner, the same as the Deepwater Horizon.

Lord Carloway found consumption of oil and gas do not constitute "significant effects" of the project.

"It is the effect of the project, and its operation, that is to be considered and not that of the consumption of any retailed product ultimately emerging as a result of a refinement of the raw material," he 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.

"Although [Greenpeace's] 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," he said.

"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."

At present, a shortage of oil and gas supplies is a matter of public concern
Lord Carloway

Greenpeace said it intends to appeal against the ruling in the Supreme Court.

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."

The oil field cost £230 million to develop and has been operating for around nine months. Ceasing production would have cost around £5 million a month.

In 2020, Greenpeace was fined £80,000 (Dh365,000) after it defied a court order to board the Vorlich oil rig and occupied it for more than 10 days in June 2019.

Updated: October 7th 2021, 1:57 PM