The game-changing legal decision on oil drilling, explained

A landmark court case has ended with a big win for the climate. Here’s what you need to know.


What happened?

The UK Supreme Court has ruled in favour of Sarah Finch and the Weald Action Group in their fight against oil drilling plans in Surrey.

The group had challenged Surrey county council’s decision to grant permission for an oil well at Horse Hill, near Gatwick Airport. They argued that the planning committee that granted permission for the drilling was wrong to only account for emissions arising from the drill site itself. They should also have considered the emissions created when the oil is burned after being sold.

Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth also supported Finch’s case as ‘intervenors’.

What does it mean?

This judgement means the oil well at Horse Hill no longer has permission to go ahead. But the impact of this case doesn’t end in Surrey.

This decision should mean that any new fossil fuel projects in the UK must consider all emissions, including those from burning the fuel, not just from getting it out of the ground. This could change how future oil and gas projects are approved across the UK.

Greenpeace UK has existing legal challenges against the Rosebank and Jackdaw oil and gas fields which have been put on hold pending the outcome of this case. This judgement sets a precedent that will hugely increase our chances of victory against Rosebank and Jackdaw.

Take action

We’re writing to Labour leader Keir Starmer to demand a clearer and more ambitious vision for climate solutions for this country. Don’t ask, don’t get! Will you add your name to the open letter?

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The way forward for oil and gas workers

The case moves us closer to an essential goal: ending the chaos and destruction caused by fossil fuels. But this can – and must – be managed in a way that protects fossil fuel workers who are just trying to make a living. They need certainty, not endless court cases.

The Robert Gordon University says 90% of jobs in the North Sea oil and gas industry could be transferred to clean energy production. But this won’t happen by itself. The government must seize the opportunities provided by the energy transition with a clear plan for the industry that places workers at its heart.

A huge win for climate

The Supreme Court has recognized what many government ministers have ignored: the main problem with new oil and gas projects is the pollution from burning fossil fuels, which is much greater than the pollution from extracting them. In simple terms, the court has made it clear that you can’t ignore the emissions from burning the fossil fuels you extract.

Now, the government must provide clear direction and strong investment to ensure a fair transition for workers and a sustainable future for the UK.

What's next?