The High Court is to review the government’s decision to grant deepwater drilling licenses for areas to the west of Shetland.
It follows claims by environmental group Greenpeace that energy minister Chris Huhne failed to carry out an “appropriate assessment” of the risks of deepwater drilling in UK waters after the Deepwater Horizon disaster which killed 11 workers and caused a huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
In October last year the government granted 144 exploration licences, although 45 licences covering 99 blocks were held back for further environmental studies. Oil industry body Oil and Gas UK said in a report this week that new discoveries particularly west of Shetland would slow the rate of decline in UK oil and gas production.
At the High Court in London Mr Justice Ousely said: “I have considerable doubts about the arguability of a number of the points, but all the issues will have to be properly resolved and that will require full argument and consideration of the sort that can only be undertaken at a full hearing however described.”
The department of energy and climate change (DECC) has been given 35 days to prepare its response, after which a hearing date will be set.
Greenpeace sought the court hearing in November last year after trying to prevent oil giant Chevron from drilling in the Lagavulin field west of Shetland by attaching a pod to the ship Stena Carron at the back of Bressay. Chevron subsequently secured a court order barring the direct action.
John Sauven, Greenpeace’s chief executive, said: “The BP spill was a game-changer, highlighting the very real risks of dangerous deep sea drilling for both important wildlife and the economy.”
In a statement Scottish Green Party MSP Patrick Harvie said: “This is a significant decision. The UK government granted these licenses even before the investigations into BP’s Gulf of Mexico disaster had finished.
“Since then even some of those already given licenses to drill in deep waters off Shetland have admitted that they are not prepared for a similar disaster in Scottish waters. The courts will now hear the case, and I hope they send Chris Huhne back to the drawing board.
“Events in Libya and the subsequent spike in oil prices have illustrated again how over-dependent our economy is on oil. Rather than take unjustifiable risks exploring for yet more reserves in even harsher environments, we should be moving urgently to clean energy sources for transport, heat and power. Neither our economy nor our environment can afford to stick with business-as-usual.”