A High Court Judge yesterday green-lighted a far-reaching legal challenge that will have significant implications for ministers’ plans for new deep sea oil drilling off Scotland’s coast.
The Guardian recently reported that Chevron’s own modelling showed an oil spill off Shetland could reach the coastline of Greenland and Norway, while The Times reported (£) that, according to an American oil company seeking to drill one of Britain’s deepest wells, a spill could:
“…last for more than ten weeks and involve almost as much oil as was lost from the BP Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico last year.”
The newspaper reported that the company called Hess has admitted that attempts to contain the slick “are unlikely to be effective” because of the heavy seas and high winds common in the area.
Honourable Mr Justice Ouseley said that the High Court would now review the energy secretary Chris Huhne’s decision to grant oil licenses in these deep UK waters following a challenge from Greenpeace. The government will now need to defend in court its decision to waive through new licenses for deep sea oil drilling to the West of Shetland.
If the High Court upholds Greenpeace’s legal challenge, the government would be unable to grant licences for deep sea drilling without completing a thorough environmental assessment of the impact of deep water drilling on specially protected areas.
If the environmental assessment were to reveal risks to protected areas and species then the Ministers would not be able to issue licences in the normal way. Equally, if the Court upholds the challenge, some oil drilling licenses that have already been granted could be quashed.
Earlier this year a cross-party group of MPs warned that taxpayers could end up footing the bill from a major spill in UK waters and said they had “serious doubts” about whether oil companies’ spill response plans would be effective given the harsh conditions off Scotland’s coast.
“…potential precursors to a major incident.”
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace, said:
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“The government is ignoring the lessons from the deep water horizon blow out in the Gulf of Mexico. The BP spill was a game-changer, highlighting the very real risks of dangerous deep sea drilling for both important wildlife and the economy.
“Rather than approving ever riskier oil drilling projects Chris Huhne should be developing a comprehensive plan to end the UK’s dependence on oil.”