The landmark legal case on oil production at Horse Hill, which will be heard by the Supreme Court on 21 & 22 June, could threaten plans for a controversial new coal mine in Cumbria – as well as other fossil fuel developments.
West Cumbria Mining Ltd, the company behind Britain’s first new coal mine for decades, is one of three bodies which has been given permission to intervene in the case – meaning they can make written or oral submissions to aid the court’s understanding.
The case is being brought by Sarah Finch on behalf of the Weald Action Group. Ms Finch challenges Surrey County Council’s decision to grant planning permission for oil drilling in the Surrey countryside, arguing that the environmental impact assessment should have into account the inevitable climate impacts from burning the extracted oil.
Three other bodies have also been given permission to intervene: Friends of the Earth (who intervened at the High Court and Court of Appeal), the Office for Environmental Protection, which was set up under the Environment Act 2021 to protect and improve the environment by holding the government and other public bodies to account (see their press release here) and Greenpeace.
The development at Horse Hill in Surrey has parallels with the proposed coal mine in Cumbria where the carbon emissions from using the extracted coal were also not included in the developer’s environmental impact assessment.
Friends of the Earth and local campaign group South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC) are seeking to take action against the government’s decision to grant planning permission for the coal mine. In its application to challenge the government’s decision, Friends of the Earth has reserved the right to argue, if Sarah Finch’s appeal succeeds, that the Secretary of State’s approach to downstream emissions was unlawful in relation to the Whitehaven coal mine.
Friends of the Earth campaigner, Tony Bosworth, said: “The biggest climate impact from gas, coal and oil projects occurs when the fuel they produce is eventually burned – it’s unbelievable that this is effectively ignored when planning decisions are made.
“This landmark legal challenge could have huge implications for fossil fuel developments across the country, including the new coal mine in West Cumbria. West Cumbria Mining are clearly concerned, which is why they have intervened.
“West Cumbria Mining boast that they will build the world’s first zero carbon mine, which is a complete contradiction in terms. Their calculations also ignore emissions from when the coal produced is actually used – that’s like saying that we should ignore the health impacts of smoking cigarettes and just look at how they are produced.
“We need to stop burying our heads in the sand. Sarah Finch’s legal case could play a huge role in building a net zero future.”
Sarah Finch said: “The fact that West Cumbria Mining Ltd want to have their say in a case about a small onshore oil development 370 miles from their proposed coal mine shows the national importance of this case. I hope that the Supreme Court will confirm that no fossil fuel development – coal, oil or gas – should be allowed without consideration of its full climate impact.”