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Photos Emerge of Jeremy Hunt at XR Rally – as Supreme Court Prepares for Legal Challenge to Oil Drilling in England that Could ‘End All New Projects’

Conservatives have passed a suite of laws targeting Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil over the past two years.

Jeremy Hunt at a protest against new gas drilling in Dunsfold last January, Waverley. Credit: XR SE Press

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Byline Times can reveal images of Chancellor Jeremy Hunt attending an anti-oil drilling protest in his constituency last year, attended by Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil. It comes as the Conservatives condemn the Labour Party for supposedly being the party of “eco zealots” determined to stop British oil and gas projects.

PM Rishi Sunak and leading Conservatives have repeatedly hit out at Labour in recent weeks, for supposedly leaving the UK vulnerable to Russia if new oil and gas projects were blocked.

On Monday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said “the moment for decisive action is now” as he pledged not to issue any more oil and gas licences if elected PM. However, existing or soon-to-be-issued licences, including one that is soon likely to be granted to the Rosebank oil field in Scotland, will not be cancelled. Sir Keir will pledge there will be “no cliff edges” or turning off the oil tap.  

The PM has hit out at Labour’s proposed ban on new UK oil and gas drilling, saying it would “jeopardise” Britain’s energy security at a time of international conflict. “Despots like Putin are the only people who will welcome such a policy.” 

Yet his own Chancellor has been opposing new drilling in his backyard. Jeremy Hunt has joined local residents, the county council and environmental campaigners are supporting a judicial review against plans for gas drilling at another site in Surrey – Dunsfold.

Jeremy Hunt at the Dunsfold anti-gas protest in January 2022. Credit: XR SE Press

The judicial review there seeks to overturn the Government’s decision to allow exploratory gas drilling by UK Oil & Gas (UKOG). In 2020 local Waverley County Council twice refused UKOG permission to drill, but the Government over-ruled them in 2022.

Campaigners believe the drilling plans could break laws over the impact on the landscape as well as legally-binding Government commitments on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and tackling climate change. 

Local MP Jeremy Hunt has attended local protests and – as of at least this March – continues to oppose drilling for gas in Dunsfold. That’s despite the Conservatives repeatedly attacking the Labour Party for supposedly being led by “eco zealots” with Just Stop Oil falsely accused of “writing Keir Starmer’s energy policy”. 

In March, now-Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said: “Despite the latest judicial review, it is again disappointing that plans for potential gas exploration [in Surrey] have not been formally shelved. The idea of drilling in this beautiful area continues to be inappropriate.” 

Rishi Sunak has claimed that opposition to new drilling puts “ideology ahead of jobs, ahead of investment, and ahead of our energy security,” branding it “completely bizarre”. 

Paul Follows, Lib Dem leader of Waverley Borough Council, said new drilling for fossil fuels is “completely at odds with our declared climate emergency”. 

And Kirsty Clough, 47, a climate campaigner based in nearby Godalming, said the Government has repeatedly claimed that the UK is transitioning away from fossil fuels – “yet since it hosted COP26, the major climate conference, at the end of 2021, it has given the go ahead to several major oil and gas projects.” 

“The courts have a crucial role to play in intervening in these decisions and holding the Government to account over their role in the worsening climate crisis. We remain hopeful that the decision to drill in Dunsfold will be overturned,” she added. 

The Dunsfold case is likely to be years away from concluding, unlike that of Horse Hill (more below) which is likely to be decided by the Supreme Court within weeks. Jeremy Hunt MP was contacted for comment about whether he still opposes the Dunsfold drilling.

Supreme Court Challenge

Future fossil fuel projects could be scrapped nation-wide if a separate judicial review rules against new plans to drill for oil and gas in Surrey this week. 

The challenge seeks to overturn a Surrey County Council decision to allow oil drilling at Horse Hill, a site close to Gatwick Airport. 

If the decision to allow drilling is overturned on the basis of Britain’s climate pledges, it could impact the outcome of future fossil fuel planning applications across the country – as it will confirm that emissions taking place at the project site should be taken into account. 

The planned expansion of the Horse Hill Developments Ltd site would see five drilling pits, four hydrocarbon production wells, four gas-to-power generators, a tanker loading area, and a 37-metre drill rig which. It would allow large-scale production of up to 3.3 million tonnes of crude oil to use in transport fuel for 20 years. 

There is a widespread consensus that developing new fossil fuel sites is incompatible with staying below 1.5C of global warming. This view is endorsed by the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, UN General Secretary António Guterres and even the International Energy Authority.

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Local campaigner Sarah Finch is leading the opposition in the Supreme Court this Wednesday and Thursday (21 and 22 June).

The action – backed by Greenpeace and Friend of the Earth – centres on the council’s interpretation of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations 2017. Finch argues that Surrey County Council’s decision to grant planning permission to the project – based on a “complete absence” of any assessment of the effects of burning the extracted petroleum – was unlawful.

“The biggest climate impact from this project will occur when the oil is eventually burned. If councils can ignore these ‘downstream’ impacts when making planning decisions, then we have no hope of staying within safe climate limits. The present lack of clarity over Environmental Impact Assessment is dangerous. 

“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,” she said. 

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Major Ramifications

The Court of Appeal was split on the interpretation of the regulations meaning the claimants were allowed to take the Horse Hill case to the Supreme Court.

Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith, representing Sarah Finch, said: “It’s difficult to overstate the importance of this case. The Supreme Court will rule conclusively on whether or not the climate change impact of fossil fuel development in the UK must be taken into account before planning permissions are granted. There is a huge amount at stake for the future of the planet and the UK’s ability to meet its carbon reduction targets.”

Friends of the Earth lawyer, Katie de Kauwe, described the legal challenge as “critically important” with ramifications for new fossil fuel projects elsewhere, including a controversial proposed new coal mine in Cumbria.  

West Cumbria Mining Ltd – the company behind the plans for the new Cumbrian coal mine – has intervened to oppose the challenge, an indication of the stakes involved nationally.

Finch says a “plain language” interpretation of the EIA rules means it is unlawful for a planning authority to grant planning permission without assessing the nature and magnitude of the greenhouse gas emissions which would be caused by burning the oil. 

The crude oil drilled at Horse Hill could be refined and used in the United Kingdom, or exported and then refined and used anywhere in the world.

An XR source said the Government, oil firms and Cumbria coal mine backers are “bricking it”.


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