Oil prospectors face licensing challenge

Greenpeace's latest crusade is against the DTI decision to grant oil prospecting licences near the Shetlands, reports Roger Pearson

A major battle is set to take place in September between environmentalists and the big league oil companies over Atlantic oil prospecting rights near the Shetlands.

Mr Justice Tucker has ruled that an application by Greenpeace for leave to seek judicial review of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) decision to grant oil prospecting licences for the area should be heard as a matter of urgency.

He went on to rule that if leave is given at that hearing, which is expected to last for two days, then the full challenge to the DTI's granting of licences should take place as soon as possible after November.

Greenpeace argues that the proposed oil exploration activities will damage the fragile marine environment round the island of St Kilda.

It claims, inter alia, that marine life and rare lophelia coral reefs will be hit and that the DTI, in granting the licences, failed to take into account the full environmental impact and failed to consider European environmental requirements.

If leave is given for a full challenge to the DTI decision, the hearing should last about five days.

The judge was told that 22 oil companies are backing the DTI decision. The case centres on rights granted in respect of 25 tranches covering a total of 114 blocks, the majority of which are in and around the west Shetlands.

A spokesman for Greenpeace said the case hinges on whether or not the UK is flouting European law by failing to consider its responsibilities under EU environmental directives prior to the issue of licences for oil exploration in the Atlantic frontier off north-west Scotland.