Environmental campaigners have vowed to take legal action following the decision by UK regulators to approve the Rosebank oil project west of Shetland.
Norwegian state-backed firm Equinor and Ithaca Energy will jointly invest £3.8 billion to develop the UK’s largest undeveloped oil and gas field.
Campaign group Uplift has already written to the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) and energy secertary to outline its belief the Rosebank approval is unlawful.
Uplift executive director and climate lawyer Tessa Khan said it confirmed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak “couldn’t care less about climate change”.
She added: “There are strong grounds to believe the way this government has come to this decision is unlawful.
“We shouldn’t have to fight this government for cheap, clean energy and a liveable climate, but we will.”
Rosebank ‘incompatible’ with climate targets
ClientEarth lawyer Sam Hunter Jones said approving Rosebank risked pushing the UK away from meeting its international commitments.
Mr Hunter Jones added: “The government is already projected to miss its climate targets.
According to Uplift, regulators have failed to properly assess Rosebank’s environmental impacts and “potentially failed” to ensure a “transparent and participatory decision-making process”.
Ms Khan added: “Most of this oil will be shipped abroad and then sold back to us at whatever price makes the oil and gas industry most profit.
“People in the UK overwhelmingly support moving to cheaper, cleaner renewable energy.
“This government should be prioritising making sure no pensioner, or family with small children is living in a cold, damp home this winter, not handing billions in tax breaks to obscenely wealthy foreign companies.”
In addition to the potential climate impact, Uplift said the Rosebank project could damage the Faroe-Shetland “sponge belt”, a protected area in the North Sea, potentially harming its “fragile and significant ecosystem” and the marine life it supports.
Latest in series of legal challenges
Environmental campaigners have launched a series of legal challenges against North Sea projects in the past year.
Greenpeace and Uplift joined forces to lodge a High Court case against what they called the UK Government’s “reckless” decision to proceed with awarding new exploration licences as part of the 33rd offshore licensing round.
Greenpeace also applied for a judicial review of the government’s decision to approve Shell’s Jackdaw project.
The Jackdaw challenge is currently on hold pending the outcome of another related case currently before the Supreme Court, which could also set a precedent for any challenge to Rosebank.
Although environmental groups are vowing to fight Rosebank, legal avenues may be limited.
Daria Shapovalova, senior lecturer in energy law at Aberdeen University said it was too early to say whether a courtroom challenge could be successful.
She added: “The regulatory processes around the approval of fossil fuel projects were not created with climate change in mind.”
Equinor has said that for every £1 invested in the UK in oil and gas, the company will aim to spend over £2 in renewables, CO2 capture and storage, and hydrogen.