Legal

UKOG seeks injunction to ban protests that aim to damage its business

170720 BB Jono Houston2

Opponents of UKOG’s oil epxloration site outside the Broadford Bridge site in West Sussex. Photo used with the author’s permission

The exploration company, UK Oil and Gas, has applied for a wide-reaching injunction against anti-drilling protests at sites in West Sussex and Surrey.

Like several previous applications by onshore oil and gas companies, it is brought against “person’s unknown and seeks to prohibit specified actions, some of which are illegal.

But for the first time, it includes a clause to prevent opponents “combining by lawful means” with the main intention of hurting the company’s economic interests.

The injunction aims to cover oil exploration sites at Broadford Bridge and Markwells Wood in West Sussex and Horse Hill in Surrey. The order would also cover UKOG’s offices in Guildford.

171202 Horse Hill eviction composite

Eviction of protesters at UKOG’s Horse Hill site, 2 December 2017. Photos used with authors’ permission

UKOG has designated what it calls “exclusion zones” on sections of road outside the site entrances, where it aims to restrict campaign activity against oil and gas developments. It also defines various actions, including taking photographs of contractors, as “unlawful”.

The application accuses protesters of “a wanton disregard of private property” and of attempting to intimidate supply companies from withdrawing their services at oil and gas sites.

The company said in a statement:

“Recent incidents have compelled UKOG to take this serious legal action to protect itself, its supply chain and landlords from threats and unlawful conduct from activists, who are intent on preventing us from going about our lawful business.

“The injunction does not prevent anyone effectively exercising their rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.

“The Injunction provides the High Court’s protection from unlawful actions such as trespass on UKOG’s land, unlawful interference with access to UKOG land, obstruction of the highway (including by slow-walking, lock-ons and lorry surfing) and obstructing or interfering with those suppliers working for the Company.”

If the injunction were confirmed anyone who breached it could be imprisoned, fined or have their assets seized.

The policing monitoring group, Netpol, today accused UKOG of trying to stifle opposition and severely restrict the right to freedom of assembly. (See Reaction section for full statement)

A web link to electronic versions of the application have been distributed by social media to individuals and anti-fracking groups.

The application is due to be heard at the High Court on Monday 19 March.

UKOG is now the fourth oil and gas company to apply for an injunction against protesters. Cuadrilla, Europa and INEOS have each been granted orders, which have been increasingly wide-ranging.

Details

UKOG injunction extract.jpg

Extract from the UKOG injunction application

The application comprises 42 documents and more than 50 videos. There are more than 900 pages of exhibits, which include online news reports, some repeated several times, along with social media posts, photographs, lease agreements, licences, consents and legal orders at other sites. The documents can be seen by using this Dropbox link

As well as UKOG, the claimants seeking the injunction comprise its subsidiary Kimmeridge Oil and Gas, and partner companies Magellan Petroleum (UK) Limited, Horse Hill Developments Ltd and UKOG (GB) Limited.

The order, if approved, would apply to “person’s unknown who are protestors against the exploration and/or extractor [sic] of mineral oil or relative hydrocarbon or natural gas by the claimant(s)” who are undertaking six different acts.

These include:

“Combining together using lawful means where the predominant intention is to injure the claimant’s economic interest”.

A spokesperson for UKOG said that acts which may be lawful are converted to unlawful behaviour if people act together with the predominant intention of injuring the company.

The draft order also seeks to outlaw:

  • Entering the sites
  • Obstructing the company and its contractors on the highway
  • Preventing access to the sites
  • Committing offences including obstructing the highway, criminal damage, interfering with a motor vehicle and compelling a person from abstaining from a legal action

If approved, the injunction would prevent a range of campaign techniques, including slow walking and lorry surfing.

Other prohibited activities, which are described in one document as “unlawful”, include photographing employees and contractors or publishing negative comments about suppliers with the intention of targeting them in a campaign.

Some of the actions referred to in the draft order are criminal offences. But some have been the subject of court cases where protesters have been acquitted, while others have not been included in previous injunctions.

170710 Broadford Bridge BBAG4

Protest outside Broadford Bridge exploration site in what would be in an exclusion zone. Photo: Broadford Bridge Action Group

On the exclusion zones, the draft documents are confusing. One seeks to prohibit protesters from:

“Demonstrating in furtherance of the campaign at the sites or in the vicinity of the sites”

Demonstrating is defined as:

“carrying out any activity as part of or in furtherance of the campaign or protest against the lawful use and/or development of the sites.”

Another document qualifies this by saying:

“save that no more than 6 protestors may at any one time demonstrate within the Exclusion Zone provided that no obstruction or other act occurs as prohibited in this order”.

No one was available to clarify this at UKOG or its solicitors, Hill Dickinson LLP.

Reaction

170710 Broadford Bridge BBAG2A spokesperson for Broadford Bridge Action Group said:

‘”This attempted action by UKOG is an affront to democracy. Local people like us have a right to voice our genuine concerns about the potential impact of unconventional oil exploration on our communities and water supplies. Trying to use the High Court to silence debate and stop lawful activity is in no one’s interests and could fracture our society beyond repair.’
 
“This comes at a time when (buried under that announcement the other day about housing planning) the government instructed council planners to look favourably on oil and gas developments. Meanwhile a government inquiry closes on March 15th asking whether all planning for oil and gas should be taken away from local authorities and decided at the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol and ultimately then by central government.
 
“The inquiry (from the Communities and Local Government Committee) also asks whether all permitting of oil and gas activity should be done by one central body. (Currently it is split between the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive, and the Oil and Gas Authority, as well as local councils for Planning permission.)
“All these moves will make it easier and quicker for the oil and gas industry to get planning permission to drill wells across our landscape – because the geology they are now targeting needs a lot of wells to tap it commercially. This is the latest in a string of changes to law, regulation and planning guidance that facilitate the onward march of onshore oil and gas drilling.”

Netpol

Kevin Blowe, of the policing monitoring network, Netpol, said:

“This latest interim injunction is another attempt by the onshore oil and gas industry to stifle opposition and severely restrict the right to freedom of assembly.

“The sweeping nature of the injunction is extraordinary. By seeking to prevent any interference with UKOG’s “economic interests” – a term that could mean almost anything – the company seems to suggest that the only “acceptable” protests are those that have no cost impact on its business and no effect on its share price.

“Anything else risks the potential threat of expensive legal action against local campaigners, even if they are “combining together using lawful means”, something that is a fair description of how every campaign group has ever operated.

“We have put campaigners in Surrey and Sussex in touch with experienced lawyers and are looking to provide support for initial legal advice through our Activists Legal Action Fund“.

Balcombe resident, Kathryn McWhirter, said:

“Local communities feel bullied and oppressed, by our government and by the oil and gas companies. We have a legal right to peaceful protest. We have a right to campaign against industrial activities that are to us clearly detrimental to the environment, to human health and to the climate. Our regulators, planners and councillors who issue permits for these oil sites seem too politically driven, too under-resourced or too afraid of being sued. Someone has to take a stand. 

Communities do not want oil drilling, whether it involves fracking or acidising or not. We do not need more onshore gas, we certainly do not need more onshore oil. So much damage will be done. Acidising and/or fracking will require a very large number of wells across our landscapes.
“Labour has pledged to ban fracking. Yet Conservative planning committees in the South East blindly follow their party’s line and condemn us to accept the oil industry into our villages and countryside. We are defending our health and our environment, our planet and generations to come. Protest is our human right.”
Keith Taylor 170720 Jono Houston

Keith Taylor outside the Broadford Bridge site. Photo: Office of Keith Taylor

Keith Taylor, Green Party MEP for south east England:

“This is an absolutely outrageous move by a firm that has no social licence for its environmentally-destructive drilling operations and, instead, is seeking a draconian injunction to bludgeon local people’s right to peaceful and lawful protest. It is worth remembering that peaceful and legal protest is just that; peaceful and legal.

“In a free and democratic country, a company’s economic interests should never supplant citizens’ fundamental human rights. This injunction is not only practically unenforceable it is also chillingly anti-democratic. It presents an obvious and clear breach of the Human Rights Act.

“I offer my wholehearted support to those residents and campaigners now forced to muster the legal support necessary to ensure this challenge to our civil liberties is rejected out of hand. I would urge anybody who cares about the health of British democracy and human rights to do the same.”

“£100,000s spent on security”

Stephen Sanderson DrillOrDropsmall

Stephen Sanderson, UKOG Executive Chairman. Photo: DrillOrDrop

In a witness statement, UKOG’s Executive Chairman, Stephen Sanderson, said the company had spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on security at the sites.

He said the bill at Broadford Bridge from August 2016-November 2017 was £542,000. The estimated cost for security at the site for January 2018 was £64,000.

At Horse Hill, Mr Sanderson said security costs during drilling in 2014 were £450,000 and during flow testing in 2016 they were £122,000. The security budget for 2018 was £636,000, he said.

The Markwells Wood site, on the West Sussex-Hampshire border, has no planning permission in force and there is no reference to security costs at this site.

Mr Sanderson said:

“protesters do not discriminate between fracking companies and conventional oil & gas exploration companies”

Referring to a visit by opponents to UKOG’s Guildford offices in July 2017, Mr Sanderson added:

“This incident highlights the wanton disregard that some of these protesters have to private property rights, whether it is trespassing on our private operational land or trespassing on our office premises.”

“Targeting the supply chain”

Horse Hill Protests

“Slow walking” lorries outside the Horse Hill site in Surrey. David Burr/Alamy Live News

In another witness statement, James Court, of UKOG’s consultant, Eclipse Security, said:

“Over the past 12 months, it has become a tactic of anti-fracking protesters to target the operators supply chain in an attempt to disrupt their businesses.”

Mr Court said his company had worked for Europa and INEOS Upstream and monitored protests across the country.

He added:

“It is clearly the object of the protesters to attempt to intimidate those companies (such as haulage companies, fencing companies and skip hire companies) into withdrawing from their supply operations.

“Unless stopped, this form of protest against suppliers and sub-contractors will continue.”

In their witness statements, Mr Sanderson and the company’s solicitor, Kevin Lee, both quoted a sentence from a six-page letter by the Lancashire Assistant Chief Constable, Terry Woods. This was written in September 2017 to Ken Cronin, Chief Executive of the industry body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas.

Mr Woods said:

“Whilst I believe the majority of protestors are there to peacefully demonstrate there are others who resort to criminality and utilise a variety of tactics and methods which cause significant disruption to the community and operators.”

Mr Lee said:

“the scale of this problem cannot be underestimated. [sic]”

Updated 7/3/2018 with the addition of a statement from UKOG, small amendments to the headline and opening text and the addition of the point that some actions mentioned in the draft order have been the subject of court cases where protesters have been acquitted. Also updated to add quotes from Kathryn McWhirter and Keith Taylor MEP

70 replies »

  1. I wonder if the injunction against those taking photographs of contractors will apply to the desperate investors who obviously have no jobs because they hang around the Broadford Bridge site every day taking photographs of waste tankers ?

    • Well good morning to you all, and fine sunny morning it is.
      This is todays video tribute from Ian R Crane about this crazy injunction attempt to gag free speach and action in England.

      ( https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=e0gltvvTZwM&feature=em-lbcastemail )

      There are now such serious issues confronting us, that none of us can just stand back and let this industry run rough shod over democracy and freedom of protest and plunge us into an insane corporatocracy that will enslave us if given half a chance.

      But in spite of that Enjoy! Enjoy!

      • Phil, are you seriously setting up Mr Crane as an authority? May I suggest you visit his websites or purchase his DVDs which explain his interesting views on the Gulf Oil Spill, the Paris journalist massacre, 9/11 etc. I think others have described him as a “conspiracy theorist”.

  2. Oh dear refracktion. The law has little remedy when individuals are selected to cause problems who then turn out not to be able to pay fines, which would be below the court costs, so many don’t even get taken to court. You know how it works, so do the companies, so do the courts. Contempt of court is a different situation.
    UKOG have clearly paid out hand over fist so far and also have a legal responsibility to protect the investments of their share holders. I don’t think anyone could claim they have been too quick off the mark.

    The antis were quite content to obtain the increased publicity by the summer activities but were less able, or willing, to control it. Chickens, home and roost come to mind.

    • Oh dear Martin. If a court sentences you to a fine and you don’t pay it you will find yourself in contempt of court. The court has a pretty severe remedy for that one. You seem to have a peculiarly warped view of the justice system which maybe explains why you can’t see the issue here?

      UKOG may well have a statutory responsibility to its shareholders but that *civil law* responsibility does not give anyone the right to seek to override the provisions of our criminal law system.

      When this rebounds on UKOG and the rest of the industry then we can agree that the chickens really will be coming home to roost.

  3. Unfortunately Refecktion you are wasting your time with Martyn, he seems to have seen and done everything, can’t believe he has not been an MP or even PM!

  4. Please refracktion treat your “audience” with a bit more intelligence. Police will not seek prosecution for thousands on the basis that they know they will not be able to pay a fine, the courts would realise it, and would let them off with a warning if it got to court. I know Rony has trouble with reading, but many do have some ability to understand the basics.

    Conflate the clear divide between a Court awarding an injunction-based upon evidence to the Court-and somehow that overriding the justice system as much as you like, but that is the justice system deciding. But, any organisation that disagrees with activities of the antis has to be tarred with the same brush. The Courts will only join an already established collection and they will be used to that.

    Equally, you can always fire up the diesel and trundle along to one of the UKOG sites and let them know you want imported oil for your diesel, and then picket Gatwick and tell them you only want imported oil to produce the jet fuel for your holiday. The response should create a large addition to your blog.

    • I’m sorry Martin but using civil litigation to criminalise behaviour by the back door because you don’t like the limitations of the the judicial system is a form of bullying which is obvious even to the meanest intelligence. You may not want to see it, but then, as Swift reminded us “There is none so blind as they that won’t see”.

  5. Gosh!….I wonder how the ‘taking pictures illegal’ thing stands up when they’ve so publically published taking 1000’s of us going about lawful protest ….You certainly can change laws and legislation if you have enough money!

  6. Excellent.

    Even more sky high costs.

    When the moronic idea of fracking in the UK inevitably collapses the losses involved with this hapless ponzi scheme will be truly epic lol

  7. If people adopt acceptable behaviour they will not be criminalised. I would rather the Courts decided whether they have, whether they are likely to continue to do so, and whether the rest of society needs protecting against that. That’s what protects against mob rule, and I think you will find that is bullying.

    It’s the two thirds wanting a legitimate (currently) activity to be allowed to be continued and not interfered with by a minority. The antis can use the same legal system if they so wish-and often do. Trouble is, they find time after time the Courts don’t agree with them, not least because it is legally a legitimate activity. So, it’s the old cry of “Infamy, infamy they have all got it in for me.” (Kenneth Williams) Not a good way to earn sympathy, let alone support, but what’s left?

    Anyway, fracking to conduct, so must away. (Last preparations for my tatties.)

  8. [Edited by moderator]
    Why not just pack up your backpacks and hoodies and head off to a country that actually contributes meaningful levels of pollution instead of being lazy and targeting the small fry? Oh yeah that’s cause you know you would be locked up in those countries faster than you can dye your hair pink!
    [Edited by moderator]

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