A campaigner from North Yorkshire is seeking to raise £10,000 to take the oil and gas regulator to court over who pays for decommissioning.
Eddie Thornton, who opposed fracking by Third Energy at Kirby Misperton, said he wanted to prevent the oil and gas industry “offloading clean-up costs on the public”.
He is preparing to bring a legal challenge in the High Court against the Oil & Gas Authority (OGA).
His case centres on the sale in July 2019 of Third Energy’s North Yorkshire gas business to York Energy.
Mr Thornton said:
“Third Energy have millions of pounds worth of defunct infrastructure which signifies massive decommissioning costs.
“The only thing we know about this new company based in the Cayman Islands is that it has just £10 in the bank.
“It’s astonishing that the government has permitted this takeover which threatens to leave the taxpayer with a huge clean-up bill. We believe the Oil and Gas Authority has failed to follow the law and we are ready to take our case all the way to the High Court.”
Third Energy’s assets include well sites, pipelines and a power station. Among the well sites are Kirby Misperton, where Third Energy planned to frack in autumn 2017 but did not pass the government’s later financial resilience test.
Mr Thornton said:
“The OGA has a duty under the law to consider whether approving such sales will leave the taxpayers holding the bag for the costs to clean up after these companies if they duck their duties or go bust.
“But the OGA claims it did not need to approve the change of control of Third Energy’s licence to drill and frack its wells.
“We are challenging this decision as my legal team consider that the OGA have acted unlawfully in determining that no approval was needed and conducting a shoddy and limited financial analysis.”
“The OGA has not said who will pick up the bill for decommissioning 20 well pads, 150km of pipelines and Knapton Power station if York Energy fails, but it’s not hard to see that it will almost certainly be left to us – the taxpaying public.”
Mr Thornton said Third Energy did not seek the OGA’s written permission for the change of control of the licence to explore or produce gas. Nor, he said, did the OGA ask for an application for change of control of ownership to York Energy.
“Under the OGA’s own guidance, this constitutes a very serious breach of the licence, requiring immediate revocation.
“Should the challenge be successful, the OGA would have to reconsider its position and would have to justify any decision not to revoke the remaining oil and gas licences that were part of the Third Energy/York Energy deal.”
Mr Thornton launched a fundraiser with Crowdjustice.com this morning, with an initial target of £10,000 to be reached by 2 November 2019. He said the case would cost more than this but the target would allow his legal to team to prepare and file court papers.
Mr Thornton’s legal team comprises Estelle Dehon, of Cornerstone Barristers, Marc Willers QC, at Garden Court Chambers, and Matthew McFeeley and Paul Stookes, solicitors at Richard Buxton Environmental and Public Law.
DrillOrDrop invited the OGA to comment on the case. This article will be updated with any response.