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UK Supreme Court Hands Climate Activists Landmark Win in Oil Drilling Case

The UK Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that a local council unlawfully granted approval to an onshore oil drilling project as planners must have considered the emissions from the oil’s future use as fuels, in a landmark case that could upset new UK oil and gas project plans.

By a three-to-two majority, the Supreme Court allowed the appeal from Sarah Finch on behalf of the Weald Action Group? and other environmental organizations against Surrey County Council, which had granted planning permission to expand oil production from a well site at Horse Hill near Horley in Surrey, close to the Gatwick airport.

The judges wrote in the judgment that “It is an agreed fact that, if the project goes ahead, it is not merely likely but inevitable that the oil produced from the well site will be refined and, as an end product, will eventually undergo combustion, and that that combustion will produce greenhouse gas emissions.”

“It is not disputed that these emissions will have a significant impact on climate,” the judgment goes on to say.

Planning law has always assumed that the so-called Scope 3 emissions from the burning of the oil shouldn’t be considered. The Surrey County Council said it believed it was following the law at the time of granting approval for the Horse Hill development six years ago.

While the Supreme Court didn’t order the Surrey council to reject the planning approval, the precedent set with today’s ruling could make new project authorizations and planning more complex for companies in the UK.

UK Oil & Gas PLC, which holds the majority of the Horse Hill project, said in response that the Supreme Court’s ruling now retrospectively requires that the end-use combustion emissions must be included in the development's Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and assessed as part of the grant of planning consent for the development.

The company now plans to work closely with Surrey County Council “to promptly rectify the situation, either via an amendment to the original 2018 planning application's EIA or via a new retrospective planning submission, for which there is recent planning precedent within Surrey.”

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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