Scottish High Court Dismisses Greenpeace “End-Use Emissions” Argument

The Guardian reports on the ruling in its article Greenpeace loses North Sea Vorlich field legal challenge.  H/T Tallbloke’s Talkshop  Excerpts in my bolds.

Permission to drill the Vorlich site off Aberdeen was given to BP in 2018.

Greenpeace argued in Scotland’s highest civil court there had been “a myriad of failures in the public consultation” and the permit did not consider the climate impacts of burning fossil fuel.

The Court of Session ruling means operations will continue at the field. Greenpeace plans to appeal.

Production from the development started in November after BP was granted approval by the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) in 2018.

The UK government welcomed the outcome.

The text of the ruling is Opinion of the Court Greenpeace Ltd. vs. BP Ltd.  

The procedural complaints were dismissed as being without merit.  The excerpts below (in italics with my bolds) address the activist theory of disallowing oil production and transportation based upon CO2 emissions of the end users consuming the energy products.

[38] The indirect emissions challenge was res judicata. Permission to proceed had been refused by the High Court. In any event, the challenge was without merit. The Directive was concerned with the effect of the individual project, not the use of material extracted in the course of a project. The focus was on the particular “project”. The definitions provided no support for the contention that the end use of raw materials, after further processes such as refinement to create a different product, was a relevant consideration (R (Finch) v Surrey County Council, at paras [101]-[102] and [109-112]).

[39] Direct emissions from the end use of oil and gas in the UK were considered and taken into account in the UK’s Annual Statement of Emissions. These were matters for political judgment (R (Plan B Earth) v Secretary of State for Transport [2021] PTSR 1901 at paras [2] and [281]), which were not challengeable in an appeal under regulation 16. The determination of a carbon budget for the UK was a complex, high-level strategic decision.  Indigenous oil and gas development was an important part of the transition to a low carbon economy. This was all part of the existing framework, which sought to manage the UK’s progressive decarbonisation up to the year 2050 (cf R (Packham) v Secretary of State for Transport [2021] Env LR 10 at paras 83 and 87).

[40] The production of oil from the Vorlich field did not increase the use of oil. The appellants’ position, that as a matter of principle there should be no new oil, conflated and confused different questions. The scope of an EIA was a matter of judgment, so long as the information in it was accurate.

The environmental effects of the consumption of oil and gas


[63] The relevant considerations which require to be taken into account in an environmental impact assessment, notably when the applicant is preparing his Environmental Statement, are set out in regulation 3A. So far as is relevant to the current appeal, the applicant is required to assess the direct and indirect significant effects of the project on, amongst other elements, the climate and the operational effects of the relevant project. In this area, regulation 3A(2) mirrors the terms of the Directive (Art 3.1). Again, there is no issue concerning any lack of adequate transposition.

[64] The question is whether the consumption of oil and gas by the end user, once the oil and gas have been extracted from the wells, transported, refined and sold to consumers, and then used by them are “direct or indirect significant effects of the relevant project”. The answer is that it is not. The exercise which the applicant had to carry out, and the Secretary of State had to assess, was a determination of the significant effects of drilling the two wells and removing the oil and gas. That involved considering the effects of depositing and operating an exploration rig or rigs on site. The ultimate use of a finished product is not a direct or indirect significant effect of the project. It is that effect alone which, in terms of the Regulations, must be assessed.

[65] The court agrees with the reasoning in R (Finch) v Surrey County Council [2021] PTSR 1160 in which Holgate J reached the same conclusion in relation to what is a direct or indirect effect of a “development”; in that case the drilling of new oil and gas wells on land.  As Holgate J stated (at para 101):

“The extraction of a mineral from a site may have environmental consequences remote from that development but which are nevertheless inevitable. …[T]he true legal test is whether an effect on the environment is an effect of the development for which planning permission is sought. An inevitable consequence may occur after a raw material extracted on the relevant site has passed through one or more developments elsewhere which are not the subject of the application… and which do not form part of the same ‘project’.”

However broad and purposive an interpretation of the Regulations or the Directive might be attempted, the clearly expressed wording of the legislation cannot be disregarded (ibid at paras 103-104). 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.

[68] 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 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.

My Comment

Recent years have seen an huge increase in legal attacks funded by woke wealthy people with deep pockets against the supply of fossil fuels.  At the same time governments have loaded up regulatory regimes that impede or prevent additional development of FF energy resources. Instead of appreciating how essential are these fuels to modern societies, policy makers, and in many cases judges, are motivated by the slogan “keep it in the ground.”  As in the opinion above, shortages in fossil fuels supply are a public concern, and especially worrisome as we approach winter. Despite this, the activist strategy is to cut off supply of affordable, reliable energy even when alternatives like renewables will not replace them, and let the people do without.

At least in this ruling the judiciary got it right.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s