Greenpeace today dragged the Government into the High Court in London in a bid to stop offshore drilling in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Lawyers acting for the environmental group filed a claim at the Royal Courts of Justice this morning seeking a halt to the issuing of new licences for deep sea drilling until the causes of the Deepwater Horizon explosion have been properly established. A hearing is expected in the coming weeks.
The legal challenge, if successful, will affect over 20 oil production licences and could halt future licensing rounds. Greenpeace lawyers argue that these licences are close to environmentally sensitive sites which support species such as whales and dolphins and are legally protected. In the wake of the recent BP disaster, the government cannot be certain that drilling in these areas will not result in environmental damage, so should not be handing out licences until a proper assessment, required by law, has been carried out.
Just a few weeks ago, Chevron admitted that drilling in the deep waters off Shetland could cause a spill worse than the Gulf of Mexico disaster.
The High Court battle is almost certain to ring alarm bells throughout the oil industry. Greenpeace has a strong record in this area and won a similar case on oil production licences in 1999. Legal challenges to nuclear power and the third Heathrow runway have also been successful in recent years.
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace, said:
"The government is handing out oil drilling licences left, right and centre as if the Deepwater Horizon disaster never happened. And they've got to stop. The oil industry is drilling in riskier and more dangerous places in UK waters, where a spill could be a disaster for wildlife. That's why we're taking the Government to the High Court today.
"Our addiction to oil is also seriously undermining the fight against climate change. Long term energy security must come from lowering demand through efficiency savings, not scraping the bottom of the oil barrel in fragile habitats and treacherous seas like those west of Shetland."
Investigations into the causes of the Gulf of Mexico spill are still underway. BP has said that the spill will cost the company at least $40billion. Any clean-up operation off Shetland could be severely hampered by rough weather, making it more expensive and difficult than the operation in the US. Colder waters would also mean that oil would disperse much more slowly and cause potentially greater damage to wildlife, like whales and dolphins.
Earlier this year, campaigners from the Greenpeace ship Esperanza halted the 228-metre long Stena Carron, a Chevron-operated drilling vessel, on its journey to the Lagavulin oil field off Shetland. Chevron initially got a court order to remove protesters who had attached an 8-foot diameter survival pod to the anchor chain of the ship and occupied it to stop the ship leaving Shetland. But Chevron was again forced back to court to get another order to remove swimmers who had plunged into the ocean and penned in the oil ship, preventing it from moving.
Greenpeace press office: 020 7865 8255