Another blow to our energy industry

An oil platform in the Cromarty Firth
An oil platform in the Cromarty Firth

One of the supposed benefits of Brexit was the opportunity it provided to ditch EU laws harming growth and innovation. These included a directive requiring an assessment to be carried out before planning permission can be granted for a development project likely to have significant environmental effects, known as an EIA.

This was contained in regulations passed by Parliament in 2017, after the vote to leave the EU, and reinforced later by Theresa May’s commitment to net-zero carbon emissions.

The consequences of not repealing this provision became apparent yesterday. The Supreme Court ruled that Surrey County Council had failed to follow the law when granting permission for oil extraction because it had not taken into account the impact of future emissions on climate change.

This extraordinary judgment, taken by a 3-2 majority, would effectively stymie all future oil and gas exploration in Britain. The court said an EIA was necessary “to identify, describe and assess the likely ‘direct and indirect significant effects’ of the project on the environment, including (among other factors) the impact on climate”.

While the legislation does not prevent the planning authority from giving consent for a project deemed to be harmful, it must reach a reasoned conclusion on the impact and take this into account in making its decision. The council thought this applied only to the immediate emissions associated with the scheme. The dissenting judges considered it constitutionally inappropriate for a local planning authority to be expected to take long-term decisions that were usually the responsibility of central government. Moreover, it went beyond the text of the directive and was contrary to the EU principle of proportionality.

But the majority ruling that future emissions from burning oil must be considered adds another layer of uncertainty to an industry already pulling back from investing in extraction under threat of even heavier Labour windfall taxes. We will need oil and gas for the foreseeable future despite the fantasies of net-zero proponents and will either have to produce our own or import it. Without North Sea oil and gas Labour’s plan for growth will be hot air.

This damaging ruling can only encourage the Just Stop Oil zealots who have spray-painted Stonehenge and tried to attack the private plane belonging to the pop star Taylor Swift. Their arrogance and self-regard seemingly knows no bounds.