Following a legal challenge, London’s High Court has granted permission for environmental non-profit Greenpeace to conduct a judicial review of a new licensing round in the North Sea proposed by the UK Government.

The charity claims that the government, and oil and gas regulator NSTA, should account for emissions, not just from the extraction process but also the final burning of the oil and gas. The UK Government maintains that the new oil fields are needed to ensure the UK’s energy security.

The defendants’ lawyers said in a statement: “There was an insufficient causal connection between the extraction of oil and gas and the downstream emissions arising from its consumption to enable a meaningful assessment of the environmental effects of the latter.”

Judge Waksman made the ruling on Tuesday. Greenpeace estimates that the government licensing round could see up to 130 new licencces being given out. Activists claim that by not accounting for the final burning of fossil fuels, government estimates ignore 80% of the emissions that these projects would generate.

Writing in the Telegraph on Tuesday, UK Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps said that “this generation-defining switch to cleaner and cheaper energy isn’t something that can happen overnight”.

According to Shapps, the North Sea supply of oil and gas is needed to maintain “the UK’s energy independence” and reduce energy bills.

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By GlobalData

Greenpeace UK climate campaigner Philip Evans celebrated the ruling, saying: “Ministers will now be forced to justify in front of a judge why they want to unleash a new drilling frenzy in the North Sea against the advice of leading scientists and the UN chief, without assessing the climate impact.”

Increasing UK energy security

Last year the UK held its first oil and gas licensing round since 2019. Jacob Rees-Mogg, Business and Energy Secretary at the time, claimed that the licensing round was in response to “Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine” and subsequent impacts on “energy security”.

He said: “Ensuring our energy independence means exploiting the full potential of our North Sea assets to boost domestic production – recognising that producing gas in the UK has a lower carbon footprint than importing from abroad.”

The UK Department for Energy Security and Net Zero said in a statement: “It is vital we continue to solidify our energy supply and sovereignty, so we can drive down bills and safeguard our national energy security. […] we won’t shy away from awarding new licences where they are justified.”

Greenpeace claims that North Sea oil and gas will not increase UK energy security as “oil and gas extracted from the North Sea is owned by the fossil fuel companies and not the UK government […] they’ll sell it to the highest bidder in the global markets.”

Applications are welcomed by the UK Government in four areas of the Southern North Sea. Meaningful production, however, will likely not begin for another decade.