Appeal over oil well site dismissed

24th March 2022


In R. (on the application of Finch) v Surrey County Council, the appellant appealed against the dismissal of her judicial review claim. She sought review of the council planning authority’s decision to grant permission to expand an oil well site and drill four new oil wells.

The authority provided an environmental impact assessment that was confined to direct releases of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from within the site. Its scope did not extend to the use of the crude oil produced.

The judge upheld the permission, rejecting the appellant’s submission that anything attributable to a proposed development should be assessed, including potential impacts from the use and exploitation of an ‘end-product’.

The first consideration was the legal test for the development’s indirect likely significant effect on the environment. The ‘proposed development’ in the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017, and the ‘project’ in Directive 2014/52/EU on the assessment of the environmental effects of certain public and private projects, are to be considered broadly. In this case, both oil well construction and the use of crude oil extraction for commercial purposes fell within those concepts.

This raised the question of whether a particular impact was a likely significant effect of the development – a matter of fact and evaluative judgment for the authority. The appeal’s outcome turned on the lawfulness of the authority’s decision that downstream GHG emissions were not indirect significant effects of the development.

Secondly, the appellant argued that the judge had been wrong to hold that the regulations were not directed at impacts resulting merely from consumption or use of an ‘end product’. However, the expression ‘end product’ was not used by authorities to include anything that might follow from permission being granted and implemented.

The appellant’s third argument was that the judge had been wrong to hold that the directive and regulations did not require assessment of ‘downstream’ GHG emissions. The fact that certain impacts were inevitable might be relevant to the question of whether they were effects of the development, and make it more likely that they were, but did not compel the conclusion. The authority had not exceeded the bounds of reasonable evaluative judgment, so the judge concluded the decision was reasonable and lawful and that the authority had not relied on immaterial considerations or made any error of law, stating: “the necessary causal connection between the proposed development and the impacts of ‘scope 3’ GHG emissions was absent in this case”.

The appeal was dismissed.

Image credit | Shutterstock

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