Two oil and gas companies argued today that only a High Court injunction would stop protests at drilling sites across England.
Alan Maclean QC, representing IGas Energy plc and Angus Energy, said the companies were subject to hostility and direct actions, including slow walking, lock-ons and lorry surfing.
He told a hearing at the High Court in London:
“There are a significant number of protesters, many of whom have the objective of preventing shale gas exploration taking place in the UK.
“There are quite a lot of people willing to take these actions. For every one person who is arrested there are others who are prepared to do exactly the same thing.
“Picking them off one by one with the criminal law would not work.”
Mr Maclean said the companies were “not in the business of preventing lawful protest”. He said:
“If you want to hold a banner or shout or bang a tambourine you can do this near the site entrance all day and all night.”
But he said opponents of the industry were actively seeking to hinder “specific commercial activities” taking place on oil and gas sites.
Angus and IGas are the latest in a series of oil and gas companies seeking High Court injunctions. Orders have been granted to Cuadrilla, Europa, UK Oil and Gas and Ineos. A challenge to the Ineos injunction is due to start at the court of appeal in March 2019. People who are in breach of an injunction order could face fines, seizure of assets or a jail sentence.
Today’s hearing was told that the IGas injunction, if granted, would cover two shale gas sites (Misson Springs and Tinker Lane in north Nottinghamshire) and a site at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire for which IGas does not currently have planning permission. The Angus injunction would cover two oil sites at Balcombe in West Sussex and Brockham in Surrey.
The proposed injunctions for both companies are in three parts seeking protection from:
- Trespass on the sites
- Interference with access to sites
- Nuisance from obstruction of the public highway
The companies are asking for exclusion zones along delivery routes to sites at Misson Springs, Tinker Lane, Balcombe and Brockham in which protest activities would be banned.
Specific protest actions, including lock-ons, lorry surfing and slow walking are prohibited in the draft injunction order, even though slow walking is tolerated and facilitated by some police forces.
Mr Maclean said the injunction applications were based on evidence of an “imminent threat” from protests that had already happened at some of the five sites, at others where IGas was the operator or at facilities run by other companies.
He said IGas and Angus had a right to carry out their activities without unlawful interference. But he said:
“There is a significant degree of hostility towards the claimants and other onshore oil and gas industry participants.
“This hostility is rooted in opposition to the planned, and entirely lawful, facilities that IGas and Angus seek to carry out at their respective sites. There are also serious health and safety considerations that arise as a result of the unlawful protester activity.”
If the injunctions were not granted, he said, the companies “will soon thereafter find themselves subjected to the unlawful activities which they seek to restrain”.
An early version of both draft orders was criticised because they included a list of individuals and organisations. Some of the names had little, if any, connection with protest or campaigning against the companies or the industry.
Some people on the lists had never been to the Angus or IGas sites. The IGas list included the website of the Tinker Lane Community Liaison Group, while the Angus list had a support organisation for parents seeking support for breastfeeding their babies.
Mr Maclean said the companies had drawn up the list in order to publicise the injunction as widely as possible.
But the IGas injunction was criticised for alleging names on the list were believed to oppose the company’s activities.
A witness statement by a solicitor accompanying the Angus injunction claimed “the individuals referred to in Schedule 12 [the Angus list] are known to the Claimant due to their extensive involvement with protests/unlawful activities at other oil and gas sites”. This is disputed by some people named on the list.
Like the other industry injunctions, IGas and Angus are seeking orders against “persons unknown”. Mr Maclean said Ineos had proved its case in favour of this approach to injunctions, though this issue is likely to be key part of the appeal next year.
The Angus and IGas hearing continues tomorrow with arguments against the injunctions. The anti-fracking campaigner Ian Crane is challenging the IGas order. Two women from Dorking are presenting evidence as interested parties in the Angus case.
Reporting at this hearing was made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers