Breaking: legal challenge fails on climate impact of onshore oil production – but judges divided

An environmental campaigner who brought a legal challenge over the climate impact of onshore oil production is considering taking her case to the Supreme Court after a divided ruling from judges.

Campaigners from Weald Action Group, which supported Ms Finch’s case, outside the Royal Courts of Justice today. Photo: Weald Action Group

Appeal court judges were split over the claim by Sarah Finch that carbon emissions from burning oil in cars and planes should be taken into account when deciding whether to allow hydrocarbon extraction.

One of the three judges, Lord Justice Moylan, allowed the appeal but rulings by Lord Lewison and Sir Keith Lindblom dismissed the case.

Ms Finch is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Her long-running legal battle centred on the Horse Hill oil site in Surrey. But if she had won, the result could have had big implications for many carbon intensive industries.

In October 2017, Surrey County Council granted planning permission for oil production and more wells at Horse Hill.

Ms Finch, who lives near the site, argued that the council should have assessed the greenhouse gas emissions from the use of any oil extracted, known as downstream or scope 3 emissions.

The council responded that it needed only to consider the direct emissions from the operation of the site.

Ms Finch said this afternoon:

“I’m dismayed by this judgment – but reassured it was not unanimous.

“The judges agreed it’s inevitable that oil produced at Horse Hill will eventually be burned, and that will produce greenhouse gas emissions. The fact that even senior judges can’t agree on whether these ‘downstream’ emissions should be assessed in the planning process shows that we need legal certainty on the issue. How can planning authorities be expected to know what to do when even judges don’t agree? 

“Every tonne of carbon dioxide emitted will make the future situation worse – and more than 10 million tonnes could be produced as a result of this development.”

A Surrey County Council Spokesperson said:

“We note the judgement that our planning decision was lawful. We will review and consider the full findings of the judgement in due course.”


The chief executive of UKOG, Stephen Sanderson, said:

“I’m delighted that justice has again prevailed for UKOG in this matter. This latest judgment in UKOG’s favour comes after more than two years in which Finch et al have sought to stop the Company’s oil production at Horse Hill. Given that during this time five judges have found against their case, one cannot help but wonder why they have been permitted so many repeated bites at the same legal cherry. That seems at very least unfair and perhaps is also somewhat unjust.”

Lord Moylan said in his judgement that planning permission had not been granted lawfully because Surrey County Council had failed to consider downstream emissions in an environmental impact assessment (EIA). He said:

“the fact that the EIA failed to identify, describe and assess the “scope 3” or “downstream” greenhouse gas emissions which will be produced through the commercial use of the oil extracted from the well site means that the EIA failed to assess the relevant and required effects of the proposed development.

“As a result, the EIA does not comply with the requirements of the EIA regulations and planning permission cannot lawfully be given.”

But Sir Keith Lindblom, the senior president of tribunals, ruled:

“I do not think there was any unlawful inconsistency or divergence of approach in the decision-making process as a whole.”

He said it was up to the county council, not the courts, to decide whether to consider the downstream emissions:

“It was for the county council – not now to be second guessed by the court – to decide whether, in addition to the assessment of greenhouse gas emissions generated on the application site, a further assessment should be required covering the impacts of the ultimate consumption of refined products of the crude oil extracted by the proposed development.”

He said he could not agree with Ms Finch’s argument that the downstream emissions were sufficiently connected to create an obligation in law that required their assessment.

The third judge, Lord Justice Lindblom, agreed with Sir Keith’s ruling but with some reservations. Lord Lindblom said:

“What I have found more difficult is the question whether the decision that Surrey CC in fact took was a lawful one.”

He said the council had not “completely ignored the potential global warming effect of the proposed development”.

“Whether the downstream greenhouse gas emissions were or were not to be regarded as indirect effects of the project was a question of judgment for Surrey CC. Although it would have been preferable for more explicit consideration to have been given to that question, I have concluded (not without hesitation) that the reasons just about pass muster.”

The campaign network, Weald Action Group, and Friends of the Earth supported Ms Finch. Her case was funded by internet appeals, auctions and sponsored walks and cycle rides.  

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

“This split judgement highlights that there is not agreement, even amongst senior judges, over questions of law relating to climate change.

“We are pleased to see that the Court of Appeal has expressly recognised that end-use emissions from fossil fuel developments are capable of scientific assessment in Environmental Impact Assessment, and that the legislation allows planning authorities to consider them.

“However, we do not believe that the majority decision by the Court of Appeal goes far enough. We wholeheartedly agree with the conclusion of Lord Justice Moylan, who gave the dissenting judgment in this appeal, that Surrey County Council could and should have considered the inevitable end-use emissions arising from this fossil fuel development.

“Planning authorities must play their part in confronting the climate crisis, or the planet will continue to hurtle towards catastrophe.

“Friends of the Earth is proud to have supported Sarah Finch in this crucial legal battle and will continue to do so if she appeals and this case goes to the Supreme Court.” 

Rowan Smith, environmental law solicitor at Leigh Day, which represented Ms Finch, said:

“Our client’s courageous campaign to protect the environment from the climate crisis has been rewarded: there is now Court of Appeal authority that, when decision-makers come to consider granting planning permission for fossil fuel projects, they may be required by the law to be assess the greenhouse gas emissions from the use of the extracted oil, coal or gas.

“This is a hugely important legal victory in the context of wider climate change litigation in the UK. Nevertheless, we consider that the overall judgment, given in the context of UK’s obligations to make urgent and deep cuts to carbon emissions in order to reach net zero by 2050, is flawed and we are advising our client on an application to the Supreme Court for permission to appeal.”

The council’s case was supported by the site operator, Horse Hill Developments Limited, a subsidiary of UK Oil & Gas plc, and the then Department of Communities, Housing and Local Government.

More details  from the judgement to follow soon.

60 replies »

  1. Yes, internal combustion engines did regularly catch fire years ago. Old cars with internal combustion engines still do. However, I would hope that science, technology and quality standards would be ironing that out by now for the brave new world. It does not SEEM to be doing so. Lithium battery fires are a particularly nasty event to control, and one would hope that risk had been fully addressed. It doesn’t SEEM to have been that successful.

    • Your “contribution” “seems” to be hung up on one word again? Perhaps a little jolt to the gratitude would assist? Or maybe it just “seems” that your gratitude would benefit from a jolt?

      Anyway, science and technology are not to be “hoped” for, however. The required technology either exists, or it does not. Hoping for technology is somewhat pointless. The problem with any complex technology is that it doesn’t guarantee that the technology is designed correctly or constructed with the required expertise and components. There are reasons why that may not be forthcoming.

      The problem with most modern day technology, is that in order to cut corners and construct something at the least possible cost, then components and safety features are often minimised in quality and functionality, to last only the minimum “operating life” with built-in redundancy. So each item then requires to be replaced at more cost, rather than last a reasonable working life span.

      The examples of types of cars that catch fire too regularly does indicate that it is typically components and lack of thorough design are the problem.

      That is the difference between a forward-looking civilised society of quality and guaranteed lifespan against the present decrepit decadent deteriorating society which only cares about money and minimum expediency of profit and greed.

      Also, there is no such thing as “science” as such. There is only the scientific method. The corrupted version of the scientific method is just what the decrepit, decadent society provides today. Nothing is reliable, because it’s not built to last beyond a very limited lifespan. Typically, no more than a few years. A wasteful society where nothing has any lasting value and is out of date as soon as it is purchased.

      That is perhaps, a far more “scientific” explanation for possible fires to any type of expedient complex electronic technology, including mobile phones, internal combustion engine vehicles and EV’s.

      [Edited by moderator]

      • I’m still awaiting your substantiated evidential personal impact assessment to my 13 questions about deaths and health injuries from fossil fuel pollution worldwide and in the UK, by the way.

        No “seems” required. Rather the opposite, in Fact. Just substantiated, fact checked evidence to my questions.

      • [Edited by moderator]

        I do agree with you though about the inability, or lack of care, or rush to achieve profits, to engineer certain products to achieve good levels of safety and utility. Then, the discerning consumer can look at the range of product available and decide to purchase or not. I have made my choice.

        A product spontaneously combusting is a problem. The combusting is on record, you can find a number of references quite easily. Am I to believe that is not a problem for a manufacturer or customer? So, no misunderstanding on my part to be cleared up. I can check records and find what there is to find. Including the issue of fire in lithium batteries, that I did substantiate. And, I have lots of things to be grateful for, but I am not sure which one you refer to.

        [Edited by moderator]

        Still await your impact assessment regarding a windfall tax upon the N.Sea. I did provide some starters to get you going.

        Regarding your full post of 7.50pm, there was absolutely nothing there to substantiate any of the points, therefore they must all be rejected!

        [Edited by moderator]

        Posting about product issues, I noted a reference yesterday concerning 62,000 people in Spain bankrupt after investing in solar! Buyer beware. Always true. However, buyers will be less as oil approaching $100/barrel, and many will find disposable income reduces as a result. Perhaps there will be a lot more concentration upon product quality to attract what is left?

        [Moderator] Bankruptcies in Spain were caused by the government failing to honour their agreement to pay a fixed price for solar electricity [/moderator]

        • Well, Well. That was predictable wasn’t it ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls? No impact assessment reply is forthcoming from the usual suspect. Especially not to the most important issues that the fossil fuel industry and their fossil fuel protagonists, That of deaths and severe and long term health issues due to fossil fuel pollution in the UK and worldwide. The fossil fuel industry and their protagonists will, at some point, have to answer, whether they like it or not. It had better be now, or the questions will mount up.

          There are 20 million deaths of people around the world every year, due to fossil fuel pollution, and the health issues resulting from fossil fuel pollution worldwide each year are at least 200 million and maybe as many as 1 or 2 billion.

          In order to present to you the mathematical impact on the people of UK, deaths and severe health issues due to fossil fuel pollution per year. But remember, each one of those people who already has, and will die and those who will get severe and long term health issues are all human beings in their own right. Not just statistics on a calculator. Each will have grieving families, bereaved relatives, children without a parent, parents without children. Lives destroyed and devastated by loss. And the statistics of how many of those there have been each year, and will be this year, if fossil fuel extraction and use continue, have been, and will be due to fossil fuel pollution.

          The inconvenient and verifiable mathematical calculation figures are as follows:

          February 4th 2022 statistics indicate that there were 68,374,386 people in the UK at that time. Of which there were 11,862 deaths for all reasons.
          Multiply that by the fact that 1 in 5 deaths are due to fossil fuel pollution, the same as the worldwide figure.
          Which indicates that of the 11,862, deaths (1 in 5) = 2,372.4 deaths were caused from fossil fuel pollution in the UK.
          Then extract from that, there are at least 10 times more severe health problems from fossil fuel pollution per year, than there are deaths from fossil fuel pollution. (10 x 2,372.4) = 23,724.

          That means that there are 23,724 further long term health issues predicted this year from fossil fuel pollution as of statistical analysis on the 4th February of population against deaths in the UK in 2022. Assessments of further long term injuries per year due to fossil fuel pollution are as much as 50 to 100 times greater than the number of deaths. 50 x 2,372.4 = 118,620. 100 x 2,372.4 = 237,240.

          Which indicates that there will be at least 118,620 further long term health issues due to fossil fuel pollution in the UK this year. And as many as 100 times the number of deaths per year for further long term health issues to 237,240 people in the UK who will suffer from health issues due to fossil fuel pollution this year.

          I suggest you answer those personal impact assessments first before I even consider your weak question, which has nothing to do with the health of everyone in the UK. I have been asking these and other questions for more than a year now, to a resounding silence from you and your colleagues. Before I even consider your irrelevant question, I will ask you again to supply your detailed substantiated and answers to what is now 14 questions and counting.

          [Edited by moderator]

          As you can see, the questions are mounting up. So don’t leave it any longer or the number of questions will increase.

          Unless, to your irrelevant question, which is only based upon greed and profit motives, it’s:

          “In Your Dreams”

          Have a nice day.

          [Typos corrected at poster’s request]

          • PS, I have supplied all the links and the verification for all these figures previously, so you will have to do your own research to find them.

            I may supply them all to you again….if you are really nice…..



  2. Still awaiting your justifications of various unsupported slurs of yours, in particular the omnipresent “fake news” – long time ago, I know, when the request has been ignored for two days and I’ve addressed those unsupported slurs I could be bothered with. However, let me refresh memories –

    “Fake news! Where? Need for regulation? Risk of over-exploitation? (Shades of Trump.)
    Is there any chance you will engage in the discussion? See 9.39pm on the 20th. for example. Perhaps too long? Or could you be wrong in your magisterial assertion – “And, no. “We” are not responsible for its predicament and “we” must pick up the tab.”
    Proof? Evidence? “

    Any chance of an apology to Paul whom you accused of seeking to control postings? (I’m familiar with this deflector’s tactic.)

    Please, no more ‘whataboutery’! It’s a way of avoiding addressing the issues. To be specific, it’s no way of justifying the horrors of the West’s subjugation of the South to argue that others have done it and are still doing it. Nor will it suffice to point out the ( in comparison with what is being looted) minimal benefits accruing to the subjugated. Nor can it be devalued as student enthusiasm and exaggeration.
    The issue of our acting with the subjugated to ensure that they no longer suffer disproportionately in the common and painful effort to save our home from those who do not care is first addressed, not by supporting their understandable efforts to tread, in their quest for the benefits we enjoy, the polluting path we are supposed to be abandoning, but by helping them to choose a less injurious path. Otherwise, they have no choice. But first of all,we have to acknowledge our past and on-going debts, eschewing the cognitive dissonance we all find attractive. Some will call this ‘patronising’. If such it is, then bring it on, as they say.

      • Ahh, a new “well said” buddy!

        [Edited by moderator]

        Thanks for the addition regarding Spain, Paul. So, more people thinking they were doing the right thing and then paying a heavy price. The numbers are mounting up. I would just repeat-buyer beware. Meanwhile, I note the people of Lincolnshire are up in arms about solar farm applications, according to comments in HoC today. Obviously, a few still appear to be seeking to make a lot of money from solar. However, where will the grain be grown to enable E10 petrol without pushing up the price of food? How is that going, so far? Terribly. This doing the right thing appears to be heavy on pockets, which is fine if the buyer was aware, but not so when they have not been.

        • Well, well ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls! What do “we” have here?

          Apparently someone gave them too much rope? And they are still swinging from that odd obsessive fixation about anyone agreeing with anyone but themselves and their “buddies”…. Very odd. Fear of agreement between others. Isn’t that an indication of weakness of any position, not strength in beliefs or in self? Freud or Jung would have a field day with that. And the rest is just about money, not about people.

          Never mind. Back to the Real World.

          Still no reply to the questions that BMJ statistics proved that in 2020, fossil fuel pollution caused 20 million deaths and the many more health issues per year worldwide. And still there is nothing from the usual suspect to answer the statistics that people in the UK have suffered approximately 2,372 deaths per year, and that statistical analysis assessments that 237,240 people have suffered long term health issues due to fossil fuel pollution. That if further fossil fuel extraction is allowed to continue in the UK. Then the figures will increase this year.

          No, nothing about that is even allowed to be admitted, let alone to explain the costs to human life and health of this and future generations. And that does not even begin to explore the cost to the Medical Profession and the NHS. What does that cost per year in time, effort and money during this pandemic, before and after? The entire country was locked down for months. And yet the equivalent health effects due to fossil fuel pollution are anywhere between 7 to 20 times greater than from covid and its residual effects.

          But is there a lock-down of fossil fuel exploration and extraction? No. More hypocrisy.

          Each one of those people who died was a person. Each of those still suffering are people, not statistics to be bandied with. Each with families, with children and parents, aunts and uncles. What of the impact upon them? No answer from the usual suspects.

          And the sole response from that source, to the devastating truth, is this: “Ahh, a new “well said” buddy!” and some diversion/deception into the usual vague vacuous irrelevances.

          Well, there are words to describe what I think about that lack of care or concern. But I won’t print them here. I’ll let you guess…..



  3. Looking at the pressure on Germany to plug the plug on Nord Stream 2, with the support of Joe Biden!
    It looks like the UK has no option but to turn that drill and to start fracking the UK onshore prospects!

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