Greenpeace has launched legal action in a bid to stop UK offshore drilling in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The environmental group has announced that its lawyers have filed a claim at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
They are to seek court orders banning the issuing of new licences for deep-sea drilling until the causes of the Deepwater Horizon explosion have been properly established.
Greenpeace says that, if its legal challenge is successful, its action will affect over 20 oil production licences and could halt future licensing rounds. Greenpeace lawyers argue the ban is necessary because the licences relate to areas close to environmentally-sensitive sites which support species such as whales and dolphins and are legally protected.
They will seek to persuade a judge that, in the wake of the recent BP disaster, the Government cannot be certain that drilling in those areas will not result in environmental damage.
They want a ruling that licences should not be handed out until a proper assessment, as required by law, has taken place. Papers were lodged at the High Court applying for permission to seek judicial review, and these will now go before a single judge sitting in private. The judge will decide whether Greenpeace has an "arguable case" which should go to a full hearing.
Greenpeace says just a few weeks ago Chevron admitted that drilling in the deep waters off Shetland could cause a spill "worse than the Gulf of Mexico disaster".
The group boasts that it has a strong record of success in the courts and won a similar battle on oil production licences in 1999.
Legal challenges to nuclear power and the third Heathrow runway have also been successful in recent years. John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace, said: "The Government is handing out oil drilling licences left, right and centre as if the Deepwater Horizon disaster never happened. And they've got to stop.
"The oil industry is drilling in riskier and more dangerous places in UK waters, where a spill could be a disaster for wildlife. The "addiction to oil" was also seriously undermining the fight against climate change.
"Long-term energy security must come from lowering demand through efficiency savings, not scraping the bottom of the oil barrel in fragile habitats and treacherous seas like those west of Shetland," said Sauven.