The UK’s fledgling fracking industry was dealt another significant nail in its coffin today, when the High Court ruled that the current guidance from the Government on shale gas is “unlawful”.
And such is the importance of the legal ruling, it is difficult to see how the industry can recover in the UK.
The legal case – known as a judicial review – was brought by campaign group, Talk Fracking, run by Joe Corre, son of fashion legend, Vivienne Westwood.
The group argued that the Government had not considered the latest scientific evidence on climate change when formulating its fracking policies and was fundamentally wrong by trying to argue that gas was beneficial in the fight against climate change as it is supposedly “low carbon”.
For years, anti-oil campaigners have been arguing that gas in neither green or clean and that shale gas should not be used as a so-called bridge fuel in the fight against climate change.
For example, OCI issued a briefing back in November 2017, which said: “The myth of fossil gas as a bridge to a stable climate does not stand up. While much of the debate has focused on methane leakage, data shows that emissions just from burning the gas are enough to overshoot climate goals. We must reduce fossil gas combustion rather than increase it. The fact that methane leakage will never be reduced to zero only makes this more urgent.”
And now a British court has agreed that the latest science on climate must be taken into account in deciding if fracking should go ahead.
The judge, Justice Dove, ruled that “material from Talk Fracking, and in particular their scientific evidence as described in their consultation response, was never in fact considered relevant or taken into account” when the Government revised a key planning policy last year.
The judge also ruled that government policy on fracking was “flawed in its design and processes”.
In a further blow to the Government, the judge also ruled it had failed to undertake a lawful consultation when it revised the relevant policy.
The policy, called the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), outlines how planning authorities should “recognise the benefits of on-shore oil and gas development, including unconventional hydrocarbons, for the security of energy supplies and supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy; and put in place policies to facilitate their exploration and extraction”.
The legal case was brought by Claire Stephenson on behalf of Talk Fracking. She said after the judgement: “We are delighted that the court has agreed in part with our arguments that the government’s policy on fracking is unlawful. The government have continually sought to ignore public opinion on fracking, despite the overwhelming opposition on a national level.”
Joe Corre, founder of Talk Fracking, was also jubilant, saying: “I’m very pleased that the Court has clarified both that the Government has behaved irresponsibly and recklessly with our democratic rulebook … It has now also become clear, with guidance from the Court, that objections to fracking on the basis of its climate change impacts must be considered at a local planning level”.
Rowan Smith, the lawyer representing Talk Fracking, added: “What is clear from this judgment is that the Government has to keep climate change science under review when formulating fracking policies in an open and transparent way.”
The legal judgement came just days after it was revealed that the controversial fracking site in Lancashire operated by Cuadrilla, had experienced levels of the potent greenhouse gas, methane, which were around 15 times higher than normal background levels.
We have also had worrying news in the last 24 hours concerning increasing CO2 levels in the atmosphere. The average February average CO2 concentration at the monitoring station at Mauna Loa set a new record for a monthly average. “In most years, the previous maximum is surpassed in March or April. The February record breaking is a measure of just how fast CO2 has been rising in the past months,” said Scripps CO2 Group Director, Ralph Keeling.
Keeling added on twitter: “The recent rapid rise is not surprising with the combination of weak El Nino conditions and unprecedented emissions from fossil-fuel burning”.
We know fossil fuel burning has to stop as soon as possible. And now we also know that the UK will no longer be able to argue that gas is in any way low carbon in the fight against climate change. And that means it is the beginning of the end of the shale industry in the UK.