THE UK Government will be up in the Court of Session tomorrow as campaigners challenge the decision to grant BP an oil permit without taking climate impacts into account in a landmark case.

Greenpeace is taking Kwasi Kwarteng, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and his department BEIS, to Scotland’s highest civil court calling for them to overturn the decision and revoke the permit to drill for 30 million barrels of oil.

It is the first time an offshore oil permit has ever been challenged in court, and if Greenpeace wins, could have ramifications for how the UK government makes future oil permit decisions.

In particular, it could have an effect on the imminent decision to open new wells in the controversial Cambo oil field.

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The case centres on a permit given to BP in the Vorlich field, 150 miles east of Aberdeen. BP was given the green light to drill for new oil in the field, but the UK government failed to officially publish BP’s permit, something it is legally required to do.

As the permit couldn’t be challenged by the public, the UK Government admitted it acted unlawfully and published the permits.

Greenpeace have said they will argue that when the permit was granted, the UK failed in its legal duty to check what impact that would have on the climate.

A key part of the permit process is that the government is required to do an Enviornmental Impact Assessment, where the company’s environmental statement is published and put out for public consultation.

However, the government only assesses the impact of emissions that come from oil production - but not the emissions created by burning the oil extracted.

For example, emissions from burning the oil extracted at Vorlich will be the equivalent of over three coal plants running for one year.

The National:

Johnson and Kwarteng during a visit to Moray Offshore Windfarm East in August

The licence for the Vorlich field was granted in 1981, when no obligations or legislation existed to regulate climate impacts.

Mel Evans, head of oil and gas transition at Greenpeace UK, said: “It’s outrageous that the UK government routinely rubber stamps oil permits - like this one and the proposed permit for Cambo - while completely ignoring the climate impact, which causes extreme weather and deaths.

“We hope the judge will agree that legally this cannot be allowed to happen. It makes no sense for the government to overlook the most harmful consequences of oil and gas when making these decisions.

“We are two months away from hosting global climate talks, and we’re at code red for humanity. BP’s permit must be revoked, and Cambo must be stopped.

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“By setting a clear path to phasedown oil and gas the UK government must then properly support workers and communities through the energy transition.”

The UK Government promised to undertake “climate compatibility checks” for future licences in March, but these would not apply to permits - like Vorlich or Cambo Greenpeace have said that if the proposed checks do not extend to emissions resulting from the burning oil extracted then “they will go no further than the inadequately implemented processes already in place”.

A failure to include these emissions in the permit process would be a “abhorrent failure of duty”, Greenpeace said.

The campaigners will also argue that the government failed to properly consult the public on the permit and they claim it also failed to assess how much flaring would take place as a result of this permit being granted.

The National:

The case could have implications for the Cambo oil field 

They say that in its initial application BP mis-stated its expected flaring, and underestimated flaring by 10 times, in an apparent clerical error.

The UK Government failed to notice the mistake during its permit process. Although Westminster ultimately holds the power on these decisions, the oil well, the subject of the permit, is in Scottish jurisdiction.

Regulation 16 of the Offshore Petroleum Production and Pipelines (Assessment of Environmental Effects) Regulations 1999 says the case must be taken in Scotland.

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A Government spokesperson said: “We cannot comment on ongoing legal proceedings. 

“However, whilst the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels continues to fall, advice from the independent Climate Change Committee is that we cannot have a cliff-edge where oil and gas are abandoned overnight as the sector has a key role to play in our electricity supply, in providing local jobs, and in supporting the production of everyday essentials like medicines.

“Without a domestic source of oil and gas while we gradually transition to a low carbon future, the UK would be even more reliant on imports from other countries.”

Greenpeace’s legal arguments will be made by Ruth Crawford QC, while the UK Government will be represented by Roddy Dunlop QC and John MacGregor QC.

BP and Ithaca Energy will be represented by Jim Cormack QC of Pinsent Masons.

We previously told how Boris Johnson was called on to explain why drilling equipment was set to be installed at the Cambo oil field when the project had not been signed off.

Cambo’s developer, Siccar Point Energy, was also hit with criticism after its tax haven status was revealed.