Climate dispute over Surrey oil wells to go to Court of Appeal

A climate campaigner is to take her long-running fight against the development of oil wells in Surrey to the Court of Appeal.

Sarah Finch at Horse Hill oil site. Photo: Weald Action Group

Sarah Finch has been challenging Surrey County Council’s decision to grant planning permission for drilling and oil production at Horse Hill, six miles from her home in Redhill.

She will ask the Court of Appeal to decide whether the council should have taken account of the greenhouse gas emissions from burning oil produced at the site, in the context of the climate emergency.

This is the latest stage in a campaign against oil operations at Horse Hill that goes back to 2013.

In September 2019, the council approved plans by Horse Hill Developments Limited to drill a further four oil wells and produce at the site for 20 years.

Ms Finch’s legal case centres on what should have been included in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) – a detailed study that accompanied that application.

The council said the EIA should consider only the direct emissions from the process of oil production. But Ms Finch said it should also assess the indirect emissions from using the oil.

A judge at the High Court, Mr Justice Holgate, dismissed her challenge in November 2020. He said the council’s action was in line with government policy.

But the Appeal Court judge, Lord Justice Lewison, has said that the appeal should be heard because the argument over the environmental impact assessment had “far reaching ramifications” and “the emission of GHG is a matter of considerable public concern”.

He added:

“although the judge’s reasons for his conclusion are cogent, they are open to proper challenge; and in view of the importance of the question, I regard this as a compelling reason for the appeal to be heard”.

Ms Finch said the Horse Hill oil plan had climate parallels with the dispute over a new coal mine in Cumbria. Earlier this month, the communities minister, Robert Jenrick, ordered a public inquiry on that decision. She said both decisions mattered hugely in light of the global climate summit COP 26 to be hosted by the UK in Glasgow in November 2021.

She said:

“I’m glad that the importance of this case has been recognised and we will now be able to put our arguments to the judges in the Appeal Court.

“The outcry earlier this year about the Government’s refusal to intervene in the Cumbrian coal mine decision led to a change of heart. The Horse Hill oil case raises exactly the same issues – we can’t go on extracting fossil fuels in a climate emergency.

“The UK will be a laughing stock at the global climate talks in Glasgow this year if projects like this are allowed to go ahead. If we want to be world leaders in avoiding dangerous climate change, we need to make sure our planning decisions are in line with our climate targets and that processes such as Environmental Impact Assessment are used to properly assess the full carbon impact of fossil fuel projects.”

Friends of the Earth hopes to be given permission to intervene in the appeal. It made a submission in support of Ms Finch’s case at the High Court. The organisation argued that it was vital to assess the carbon impact of the oil produced by the proposed Surrey wells before any decision was taken to permit their development.

Katie de Kauwe, lawyer at Friends of the Earth, said:

“We maintain that Surrey County Council’s failure to consider the climate impact of burning the oil produced at Horse Hill was unlawful, so we’re delighted Sarah Finch has been given permission to continue this vitally important challenge in the courts.

“With the world staring at catastrophic climate change, and the UK committed to net zero, the full impacts of fossil fuel developments like this must be taken into account in the decision-making process.”

The appeal will decide whether there was a failure to comply with the 2014 EIA Directive and the 2017 Town and Country Planning (EIA) Regulations.

Lawyers for Ms Finch will argue that the council’s approval of planning permission would allow production of hydrocarbons, predominantly oil for use as transport fuel, beyond the year 2040. But nowhere was there an assessment of the greenhouse gas emissions that would result from the use of that oil.

They will say the High Court judge interpreted too narrowly the scope of an  EIA as just an assessment of the impact of the work permitted and not the environmental effects of the whole development. They will also say the judge wrongly held that the greenhouse gas emissions from the use of the oil were out of scope of the EIA.

  • Robert Jenrick is expected to rule this month on whether an EIA should accompany Rathlin Energy’s plans for a further six wells and oil production at West Newton-A in East Yorkshire.

11 replies »

  1. Why should indirect emissions be considered for UK produced oil but not for imported oil?

    What a waste of time and money-again.

    Meanwhile, more licences being offered for N.Sea.

  2. In for a pound, out for a pound!
    Wasting yet more tax payers money!, one wee oil production outfit, Ms finch do you have no shame! I hope you contribute more to the treasury to compensate for this!!
    (As I bang my head against the wall, with frustration)!

    You do realise these an onshore oil field called wytch farm which operates with no issues to the external environment!

  3. Just removed my Brussel Sprout plants from the greenhouse into the compost bin. LOL.

    This is such a crazy notion. If you take it the other way, it would likely exclude the majority of solar panels.

    And, no one has stated oil will not be used past 2040. Perhaps the lawyers would like to explain, for instance, how disaster zones will be reached and helped after 2040? Electricity is the first to go within most natural disasters. No helicopters, no generators, no chain saws, no bulldozers and diggers, no pumps etc. etc.? Sorry folks, you are on your own as collateral damage of obsession can be ignored and overrules your survival. Here’s a shovel and wooden bucket.

  4. A glutton for punishment I can see but still has not done her homework while the barristers still take their money.

    There are many uses for oil not just for transportation & the UK still wants more indigenous oil production not imported oil hence the new licences still being issued never mind the ones issued which are now due to come online.

    Maybe they didn’t understand that the barristers in the High court didn’t only represent Surrey County Council but also the UK government policy.

    The use of the produced oil is determined at or after refining. That use will determine what emissions will be not production.

    If there is no petrol or diesel cars on the road by 2050 then the refined oil will be used for other purposes which will clearly still exist.

  5. Exactly Paul.

    Ms. Finch stating the UK will be “laughing stock” just suggests others would be that hypocritical to do so.

    Who, exactly will be laughing? Germany? Nord Stream 2! and on and on and on.

    Even N. Zealand would struggle, as it requires huge air miles to support it’s tourism industry.

    And, how many will fly in to the UK for their jolly in Glasgow?

    • The anti’s are [edited by moderator] Caught in a bubble, and they honestly don’t know what going on in the next valley, country or universe!

      Arguing over the direct and indirect ghg and to subject that to an argument so fool the judge precision g the case!! Complete Lunacy!

      • Eli , I can only think that the moderator removed the part of your comment that made sense as the rest is just industry speak .There’s only a few that benefit from what’s happening at Horse Hill , that’s Sanderson, the tanker drivers who transport all that waste water and the treatment centre that deals with it.

  6. How’s it going Fred ? Would you like me to get you a tissue? Surely tax payers are allowed their day in court too? I and many others have contributed voluntarily towards this case but I don’t remember any of your cash being used so why the long faces ? Ithink you are just scared 😱 It’s interesting to hear the reason this is going ahead , the judge, who I think is in charge says it’s important and I tend to believe he knows better than you lot.

  7. Well, Jono, if that is how you want to spend your money, it is your choice. (Mug punters?) However, I can think of many more pressing needs for charitable donations than barristers and lawyers, and I can think of many more pressing needs for the Courts.

    But, it is interesting that whilst there have been a number of posts suggesting why such an action is nonsensical, you, and others, have not been able or willing to suggest why it is not.

    By the way, I was watching a piece on Sky last night when they were building a graph reference emissions. UK was the first to come up. Nice decline, still some to go. Then, they started to overlay other countries, building finally to the world, by which time the graph was not declining but going steeply the other way. By the time they got there, UK at the bottom looked like a seagull on the horizon! So, this is nonsense about UK looking silly in Glasgow. However, as there is still someway for UK to go, every little helps-like cutting out transport emissions as and when possible, which you are helping to fund to stop that! Your choice, but IMO that is what makes UK look silly.

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