Legal

Oil company withdraws key clauses in protest injunction

180319 UKOG injunction2

Campaigners against the UKOG injunction outside the High Court, 19 March 2018. Photo: DrillOrDrop

Opponents of oil drilling in southern England have claimed victory after an exploration company dropped what they described as “the most draconian” clause in an injunction against protests.

UK Oil & Gas (UKOG) is no longer asking the High Court to outlaw campaigners “combining together using lawful means where the predominant intention is to injure the claimant’s economic interests”.

Opposition groups had said this clause was an unenforceable attempt to stifle opposition and sought to prevent typical campaign activity.

UKOG said this afternoon it had listened to concerns of communities in the areas affected by the injunction and narrowed its scope. It said it was not trying to silence lawful protest and was asking for protection solely from what it called unlawful activity. (UKOG statement for full comment).

Lorraine Inglis, for the campaign organisation, Weald Action Group, said today:

“UKOG have climbed down on the most draconian clause of an injunction they propose to bring against ‘persons unknown’ who might seek to oppose their oil exploration activities in Sussex and Surrey.

“This is a victory for democracy. No way should a company’s economic interests trump human rights.”

The latest draft order, seen by DrillOrDrop, has also removed Markwells Wood in the South Downs from the list of four sites in southern England named in the injunction. The company now seeks to apply the order to exploration sites at Broadford Bridge in West Sussex and Horse Hill in Surrey and the UKOG headquarters in Guildford.

There is no reference in the new order to exclusion zones outside the site entrances, where previous versions had said campaigning would be restricted. It appears that the company is now seeking to prohibit entry to the sites alone and not the land or road outside.

A clause in the previous order has also been removed which sought to prevent “intentionally photographing or filming the protected persons with the purposes of identifying them and/or targeting them in connection with the campaign”. The latest version does, however, introduce a new ban on “watching” the claimants.

The proposed injunction was brought by UKOG and four related or partner companies against “persons unknown” last month (March 2018). When the case went to the High Court (DrillOrDrop report), five local women said they wanted to challenge the order. The hearing was postponed to a future date for the challengers to prepare their case .

Markwells Wood

Markwells Wood 6 Ann Stewart

UKOG’s Markwells Wood site in the South Downs National Park. Photo: Markwells Wood Watch

UKOG’s solicitors confirmed in correspondence that the Markwells Wood site had been removed from the injunction, saying:

“The reason for this is that operationally it has ceased to be of importance”.

Last month, DrillOrDrop reported that UKOG had lost its right of access to the site in July 2017 when landowners withdrew from an agreement with the company.

We also reported recently that the South Downs National Park Authority had issued a Breach of Condition Notice requiring the Markwells Wood site to be restored within six months.

There has been no planning permission for the site since September 2016. UKOG withdrew a new application for more drilling and production in May 2017 after objections from the Environment Agency and Portsmouth Water.

Last week, the company told investors it does not believe the Breach of Condition Notice was valid (DrillOrDrop report, see Other plans – “batch applications”)

Emily Mott, of the local residents’ group, Markwells Wood Watch, said:

“UKOG’s lack of candour is troubling. UKOG is fully aware that they are in breach of contract to restore Markwells Wood. Furthermore, they have known since July 2017 that their access to the site was denied.

“Markwells Wood Watch will continue to campaign across the Weald for the protection of our environment against the fossil fuel industry. We call upon UKOG to restore Markwells Wood and leave our community in peace.”

Locking-on

The revised draft order has added new clauses, including a variation of the campaign technique of “locking-on”.

The new order prohibits protesters “attaching themselves to equipment belonging to or in the possession of the claimants”. It also seeks to prevent protesters attaching themselves to equipment on the sites or being conveyed to or from the them.

Campaigners against the onshore oil and gas industry have previously secured themselves to fencing and delivery vehicles.

UKOG has also inserted a new clause preventing people from “interfering with the claimant(s) economic interests” by the commission of unlawful acts.

“Slow walking”

Horse Hill Protests

“Slow walking” protest in February 2016 outside the Horse Hill site, in Surrey, one of three sites now named in the injunction order. Photo: David Burr/Alamy Live News

The revised order has also retained previous clauses. These include the often-used tactic of “slow walking” in front of lorries delivering to and from sites. Some police forces have facilitated slow walking at anti-fracking or anti-drilling protests and some protesters who have used this technique have been acquitted by the courts.

Lorraine Inglis, of Weald Action Group, said:

“The revised draft still retains many elements that would severely restrict our right to legitimate protest – attempting to control activities on public highways and suggesting we are not even allowed to ‘watch’ the activities of the company and its suppliers. We shall continue to challenge them every step of the way.

“We’re fighting to protect our countryside and our environment – we can’t let what we feel are bullying tactics stifle our legitimate protest. This injunction, if granted, would mean severe curtailment of our right to protest and defend our environment.”

Other outlawed actions that remain in the order include criminal damage, removing equipment, blocking the highway, entering or remaining on sites, intimidation, assault, obstructing the highway or access to sites and interfering with motor vehicles.

UKOG statement

A spokesperson for UKOG told DrillOrDrop this afternoon:

“The injunction seeks affirmation from the High Court that it is our legal and democratic right to conduct lawful business without unlawful hindrance from those who oppose us. We would like to reiterate that we do not seek to silence lawful protest – it is solely unlawful activity that we are asking the court to give us protection from. The injunction, if granted, will therefore not affect peaceful protest such as “cake at the gate”. It will affect only those persons who decide to slow walk, lorry surf, obstruct the public highway, intimidate and threaten our staff or trespass on our private land.

“We have agreed to a cost capping order showing that we are not trying to stifle our opponents voice. We believe strongly in the rule of law and the democratic process. Agreeing not to pursue the defendants for costs is proof of that.

“Contrary to the provocative comments made by Keith Taylor MEP, we are not a corporate bully. We listen to the communities in which we operate and accordingly have narrowed the scope of the order having listened to their concerns.

“Anyone going about their lawful business will emphatically not be affected by this order.”

Court challenge

Weald Action Group said it would continue to challenge UKOG’s injunction when the case returned to the High Court later in the year. The group plans to launch a Crowd Justice appeal to support the legal challenge.

The challengers are represented by Stephanie Harrison QC and Simon Simblet, instructed by Michael Oswald, of Bhatt Murphy solicitors.

180405 HH Keith Taylor visit UWOC6

Keith Taylor MEP (Second left) outside the Horse Hill site, 5 April 2018. Photo: Used with the owner’s consent

The Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor told anti-drilling campaigners this afternoon in Surrey:

“I am pleased to say UKOG are obviously feeling the pressure as they’ve changed the terms of the injunction – they’ve backed down and acknowledged they were on shaky ground so they have left out the outrageous clause seeking to prohibit lawful means of protest’

“Just because they have got loads and loads of money doesn’t mean to say they are doing the right thing – they are doing the right thing for their shareholders and communities like yours are actually paying the price and that is not acceptable And that’s why we need to increase our activity challenging their plans as is fit for a free and democratic country

“A company’s economic rights should never rule us or replace citizen’s fundamental human rights

“I thank you all for being so wonderful and putting your lives on hold to come down here to protest and I look forward to coming back in a few month’s time to celebrate the refusal of this injunction.”

 

26 replies »

  1. Still a strong injunction which is likely to get through court. UKOG have shown the courts they have taken steps to appease the Corbynistas which will undoubtedly help their cause.

  2. Taken steps to what ? They have been advised that they had no chance of getting the Draconian injunction through and have had to back down or be slaughtered in court , also this is a roundabout way of telling punters that they did in fact lose Markwells wood.

    • GBK, you have no evidence whatsoever that so called Corbynistas are anything to do with this. It is completely irrelevant to this report. People with different political opinion and allegiance oppose fracking, including Conservative voters. You frequently comment on here so I assume you will have seen the recent articles regarding the opposition to fracking from many large landowners and also criticism of INEOS and their bullying tactics from the CLA . Do you really think that most of the owners of large, country estates and members of the CLA are also all Corbynistas? Your efforts to stereotype opponents of fracking are quite frankly ridiculous.

  3. Now, that’s demonstrated good intentions from one side. Interesting reaction from the antis who were wanting a demonstration of good neighbours from the exploration side-when it is offered they show no gratitude. Good move by UKOG ahead of the hearing. Not a good reaction by the antis ahead of the hearing. Tactically, pretty silly.

    • Martin your grasp of strategy is quite brilliant. Which famous general from history do you most model yourself on? Publius Quinctilius Varus? William Hull? Admiral Byng?

  4. A clear victory for local people who are fighting for their right to protest. UKOG tried to get an injunction for a place they don’t even have access to, so must look pretty stupid now.

  5. Jono-why has it taken you so long to work out Markwells Wood??

    Punters already knew what the situation was, with new sites being progressed, related to the data being acquired. Sorry you missed the signals, but there have been so many perhaps they have confused? When the new sites have been finalised, then the injunction can be extended to them.

  6. UKOG recent Annual Report said:

    In order to progress the acquisition of new site-specific hydrogeological data over and around the Markwells Wood well pad our investees temporarily withdrew their planning application to the South Downs National Park Authority (“SDNPA”). UKOG is considering whether to resubmit a revised planning application in 2018 after the completion of the planned data acquisition and upon the conclusions of ongoing technical conversations with EA. The Company acted in good faith that this position was understood and agreed by SDNPA and EA.

    Subsequent to the year-end, UKOG received a breach of condition notice from SDNPA. UKOG and its investees do not consider the notice to be valid, and UKOG is considering its position on Markwells Wood in discussion with SDNPA and EA.

    But now:

    UKOG’s solicitors confirmed in correspondence that the Markwells Wood site had been removed from the injunction, saying:
    “The reason for this is that operationally it has ceased to be of importance”.

    So what is it? No longer doing anything, in which case they should restore, except they can’t afford to. They only got their accounts signed off by the auditors by claiming they has very few expenditure commitments and the rest was discretionary.

    UKOG are trying to have their cake and eat it too.

    The really problem is as Prof David Smythe says here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxoBMzMUo_c&feature=youtu.be:

    (well worth watching the whole 45 Mins)

    UKOG are penny share cowboys who do not know what they are doing and will go bust when the mug punters stop believing in their fairy tales.

    Who picks up the bill for undoing the damage they have done when they are bust?

  7. KatT-at least GBK realises this situation has absolutely zilch to do with fracking! A normal human being who bothers to do some research.

    I’m more into the Trojan Horse tactic refracktion. Perhaps Horse Hill was a clue-trot on.

  8. Martin I’m not sure you are in touch with reality. I feel sorry for the investors who have to find out about Markwells Wood from Drill or Drop which is where they get most of their info. This injunction has been a waste of time and money as the law already covers illegal activity. As for watching I’m never going to stop watching how else can we monitor our environment. The EA hasn’t got the personnel to do this across the country and that’s why we are called protectors. We stand side by side with investors at the gates who also watch.

    • Thanks Ruth for reporting on this release of news regarding UKOGs resubmitted revised draft order to court.

      Congratulations everyone who worked towards and achieved this apparent climb down by UKOG.

      Well well, this is interesting isn’t it?

      This is a result of all the public avowed intent to fight the injunction and also from all those landowners and actors and well known personalities, thank you one and all.

      Yes, it is, so all those cries of “its of no consequence” from the fracking gallery were wrong then weren’t they? Very wrong in fact.

      But what do we see in the resubmitted revised draft order? The blatant anti democratic and human rights abuse clauses have gone it seems, no doubt because the entire injunction would have been utterly defeated if UKOG had not withdrawn them?

      So this is not actually UKOG being nice to anyone is it? it is just a recognition that the entire injunction would have foundered on the outrageous anti democratic wording and intent to overturn centuries of human rights.

      However, the resubmitted revised draft order wording has new clauses, and many still remain, and the intent is still in there, it is just worded more carefully, and could still be interpreted in the same way, it is just not as blatant?

      So the battle is won, for now, but the war is not yet over, since the intention to do exactly the same as the original clauses is still there, it is just reworded to attempt to get it past close scrutiny.

      But we know better don’t we?

      Nothing less than the total defeat of this attempt to overturn democracy by stealth rather than open declaration, will do, or reduce it to the point where existing law is already in place and that therefore makes the injunction irrelevant and inconsequential and it can therefore be dismissed and withdrawn and refused, there being no need to duplicate laws all ready in place.

      So dangerous still, and no doubt there will be other attempts to overturn democracy in favour of private corporations.

      We must not let centuries of legal human rights to be even mildly overturned by such injunctions.

      Again, well done everybody for getting this far.

  9. Why feel sorry for the investors re Markwells Wood, Paula? Nice of you to be so caring but any half informed investor in UKOG knew some while ago that Markwells Wood was becoming peripheral to the forward plans. Timing was probably more linked to negotiating agreements for the other sites they wish to explore prior to a final decision that Markwells Wood could be relinquished, decisions being impacted by what data was coming from BB. In football terms, you don’t allow the contract of one player to expire until you have a (hopefully) better one signed.
    Just because that information is available elsewhere, it doesn’t mean that investors are unaware of it. No disrespect to Ruth, but you are simply wrong about source of their information.
    Sorry but your vision of reality could do with the blinkers being removed. The wider picture is much more informative. But, hey ho, if you feel better thinking Markwells Wood has been a huge victory, fill your boots.

    • Heavens to betsy martin, the Markwells wood utter defeat really did get to you didnt it?

      Never mind, I’m sure it will all fade from view with that one last little notch tweak of your industry standard issue total black out blinkers?

      God they must be getting so unwieldy these days? Had the doors widened yet?

      Blinkers is as blinkers does?

      Coming from the most blinkered poster on Drill Or Drop must be a Guinness book of records phenomenon by now?

      Always a pleasure!

    • At least some UKOG investors were unaware of the situation at Markwells Wood before DoD reported the story.

      In the LSE share chat on the day of the story it was dismissed by one poster as “fake news”. Another called for Ruth to be sued for spreading misinformation and a third wrote “Drill or drop is not to be believed they have been wrong loads of times. On the other hand if true then ss needs to put shareholders and the market right about this.”

      • Thanks Paul, good to have some honest clarification rather than the usual obfuscation of the Markwells Wood issue.

  10. You are already protected from unlawful activites UKOG, it’s called the Law. Maybe, possibly, shudder the thought, you are on very shakey ground here……..no pun intended.

    • The frackers don’t want laws Katherine, they want unquestioning slave like obedience and subjugation to their exclusive profit motive imperatives.

      Laws only define and attempt to limit rights you all ready have by right of birth.

      They can’t allow us to possess any rights they can’t overturn or twist out of shape by injunction.

      It is your common law rights they are attempting to subsume to their selfish ends.

      That is what these injunctions are all about. The rest is just smoke and mirrors.

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