Shell’s Jackdaw gasfield and Ineos plastics project face legal challenges – DRILL OR DROP?

Campaign organisations are taking separate legal actions over plans for a new gasfield and Ineos’s plastics project.

Greenpeace announced today that it was challenging ministers over the approval of Shell’s Jackdaw field in the North Sea while ClientEarth and 13 other organisations have taken the Flemish authorities to court to block Ineos’s E3bn plastics project in the Port of Antwerp in Belgium.

Protest against the Jackdaw field at the Shell AGM in London, 24 May 2022. Photo: DrillOrDrop

“Ministers failed to check climate damages of burning gas”

Greenpeace said its case against the government over Jackdaw centred on the emissions generated from burning gas produced by the field.

The organisation said officials failed in their legal duty by not assessing these emissions.

The UK’s offshore oil and gas regulations require regulators to consider the risks to human health and the environment from a range of different impacts, including indirect effects.

Greenpeace said gas from Jackdaw would generate more carbon dioxide than the annual emissions of the whole of Ghana.

The gas would not help to ease the UK’s energy crisis or cut household bills, Greenpeace said. The gas belonged to Shell and would be sold on the international market to the highest bidders, it added.

Greenpeace warned ministers that it would be ready to take legal action every time they acted unlawfully to prioritise new fossil fuels.

The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, approved the Jackdaw project, 250km east of Aberdeen, on 1 June 2022. At the time, he said:

“Let’s source more of the gas we need from British waters to protect energy security.”

The scheme involves drilling four wells, installing a new wellhead platform and a new 31km pipeline.

Philip Evans, oil and gas transition campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said:

“This Jackdaw approval is a scandal. The government knows that burning fossil fuels drives the climate crisis, yet they’re approving a new gas field in June, without proper climate checks, and declaring a national emergency over heatwaves in July.

“Meanwhile household bills are soaring, and the government is ignoring common sense solutions – like home insulation, heat pumps and cheap renewable power.

“We believe this is an astonishing dereliction of the government’s legal duty, and we won’t let it stand. So we’re taking legal action to stop Jackdaw, and whenever we see the government acting unlawfully to greenlight new fossil fuels we stand ready to fight in the courts.”

Other climate campaigners have welcomed the challenge. Friends of the Earth Scotland’s Oil and Gas Campaigner Freya Aitchison said the legal action would “send a strong message to the government that the climate movement will oppose fossil fuel expansion in every way we can.”

She said:

“Climate scientists and energy experts alike are clear that we cannot afford any more gas extraction if we are to limit dangerous warming, yet the UK Government is ploughing ahead with licensing projects like Jackdaw which will lock us into continued reliance on fossil fuels for decades to come.

“The UK Government must stop issuing any new fossil fuel licences and instead start planning for a managed phase-out of production, with a just transition for workers and communities.”

In a separate action, Greenpeace is seeking permission from the Supreme Court to challenge BP’s permit to extract oil from the Vorlich field. And campaigners have also threatened legal action if the government approves a new oil field at Cambo, off Shetland.

Last year, the government promised that a “climate compatibility checkpoint” would be applied to decisions on new fossil fuel licences, so that new exploration for fossil fuels could only go ahead if deemed to align with net zero.

But the announcement was criticised when a loophole became clear which meant the new checkpoint would not apply to new permits for individual projects like Cambo or Jackdaw.

€3bn Ineos plastics project faces court action

The challenge over Ineos’ €3bn Project One in Antwerp harbour is the latest stage in a long legal campaign against a scheme to convert fossil gas into ethylene, one of the building blocks for plastics.

ClientEarth and the 13 other organisations have argued that Ineos failed to present an adequate assessment of how the project, near a protected wildlife site, would affect climate, nature and surrounding air quality.

The lawsuit contends that the Flemish authorities unlawfully approved the project without first fully assessing its impacts.

The groups will also argue that the effects of nitrogen pollution continue to be underestimated and the implications of a likely increase in Antwerp Port’s pellet pollution have not been fully assessed.

ClientEarth’s lawyer, Tatiana Lujan, said:

“Make no mistake, investments like Project One are the fossil fuel industry’s ‘Plan B’ – using fossil gas to make plastics is an attempt to keep the fossil fuel industry alive. This would be Europe’s largest plastics development in decades.

“These projects not only have devastating local environmental and climate impacts, but also global consequences. The plastics that these projects help produce emit carbon dioxide at each stage of their lifecycle. It’s this ‘slow-burn’ factor of plastics that continues to go unaccounted for.

“Instead of putting a stop to this hugely destructive and unnecessary project, the authorities have welcomed it. As they have failed to acknowledge or share the inevitable repercussions of Project One, we’re left with no choice but to take the project to court and have its approval overruled once and for all.”

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