ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners were “substantially prejudiced” by the UK Government’s failure to properly publicise BP’s application for a drilling permit, a court has heard.

Greenpeace is taking legal action against the UK Government at the Court of Session, Scotland’s highest civil court.

They are challenging the government’s decision to grant BP a permit to drill for oil in the Vorlich field, off the coast of Aberdeen, in 2018.

The environmental campaign group is calling for the UK Government’s decision to be overturned and the permit revoked.

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According to Greenpeace it is the first time an offshore oil permit has been challenged in court.

If they win the case, it could have huge ramifications for the way in which the government makes future decisions about similar permits.

For example, it could have implications on the imminent decision to open new wells in the controversial Cambo oil field, which sits 125km north-west of Shetland.

Ruth Crawford QC, representing Greenpeace, said the organisation had been denied the opportunity to comment on the application and a “clear, timely process for challenging the decisions”.

Crawford told the court: “At the heart of this appeal is the complaint that there has been a myriad of failures in the public consultation exercise requirements described under the regulations.

The National:

Greg Clark MP (pictured) was Secretary of State for BEIS when the permit was granted in 2018

“That has resulted in Greenpeace having been deprived of the opportunity as it is entitled, the opportunity to take part in the decision-making process, and that by submitting timely representations on the environmental statement and to be involved in that decision-making process relative to the environmental statement.

“Self-evidently, because no such representations were made, they were not taken into account by the Secretary of State and no-one knows what, if anything, would have been made of these representations but as a result the Secretary of State has been deprived of information which could have been relevant and material to the decision.

“In addition to those failures there has been a further failure after the decision was made, as on no view could that have been said to have been published promptly as is required under the regulations.

“The whole point of course I would suggest of decisions being issued promptly is so that in turn a timely challenge can be made if so advised.”

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The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in 2018 was Tory MP Greg Clark, but the role is now held by Kwasi Kwarteng. 

Crawford told the hearing, which is taking place virtually, that Greenpeace would have wanted to make representations on a number of issues - in particular that the project would “significantly adversely affect” the environment.

Crawford told the court: “Because they have not made those representations, in my submission the Secretary of State has failed to take into account material considerations, and flagging up that one of the major representations which Greenpeace would have wished to have made had it had the opportunity to do so would relate to the failure to assess climate change and the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Advertisements about the project appeared in the Daily Telegraph and Press and Journal, Crawford said, but the information did not appear on a Government website as is required by the regulations.

The National:

Greenpeace say it is the first time an oil permit has been challenged in court ©Greenpeace

Crawford continued: “At best for the Secretary of State there has been published on a website a link to the Environmental Statement, but there has not been published on a website, whether BP’s or indeed any other website, a copy of the application for consent, nor has there been published alongside the application for consent and the environmental statement, the notice.

“The notice is important because it includes information on how to go about making representations.”

The court also heard that the Secretary of State failed to comply with a regulation requiring the decision be published promptly.

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Crawford said: “The submission will be that that failure has substantially prejudiced Greenpeace, the identified prejudice being that the development has been consented without an ability to challenge that in a timely and effective manner and indeed prior to the development commencing.

“In short, Greenpeace has been deprived of a clear, timely process for challenging the decisions and in either event the motion which I make to this court is that it should exercise its discretion quash the consents.”

The case, which is being heard by the Lord President Lord Carloway, Lord Menzies and Lord Pentland, continues.

We told earlier how the UK Government has been accused of ‘misleading’ the public by claiming it has no power over the decision to approve or reject the Cambo field.