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Tuesday, 23 November, 1999, 19:06 GMT
Ministers drop Atlantic oil fight
The court's ruling means more protection for cetaceans

The UK Government has decided not to challenge a High Court judgment relating to oil exploration in the north Atlantic.

Greenpeace succesfully argued that the government had failed to take steps to protect and conserve a "virtually unique" undersea world from exploitation by the oil industry.

The environmental group welcomed the decision not to appeal but oil companies repeated their view that it was only a "technical" victory.

The Greenpeace application for judicial review of the geographical extent of the Habitats Directive, argued that it should be extended beyond the territorial seas up to a limit of perhaps 200 nautical miles.

'Unforeseen implications'

The DTI's decision was announced by Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers in a keynote speech to the Green Alliance in London.

"I have considered this matter and I have decided we will not appeal against the decision unless the detailed judgment, once we have received it, raises unforseen implications," he said.

Stephen Byers
"The Habitats Directive is not an easy directive to implement in the marine environment, but I am committed to ensuring that the DTI's oil and gas licensing activities are compatible with its requirements.

"I have instructed my officials to undertake this task as quickly as possible.

"During the summer we undertook a 1.5m survey of the seabed to the west of Scotland. I believe this could prove extremely useful in identifying candidate sites for protection under the directive."

Mr Byers also announced the introduction of a new environmental screening procedure for companies applying for a credit guarantee from the Export Credit Guarantee Department (ECGD).

The procedure will help ECGD identify environmentally sensitive projects so that the environmental impact can be fully assessed before a decision is taken to underwrite a project.

Wildlife needs

Greenpeace said the decision not to appeal was "great news". Any money it received in legal costs would be invested in renewable energy projects in Scotland.

Spokesman Matthew Spencer said: "This means putting the needs of wildlife before the needs of oil exploration."

Oil firms say it was a "technical" victory
He urged the government to think again about the merits of further oil exploration "which is fundamentally unsustainable".

He added: "We've already found four times more oil, coal and gas than we can afford to burn if we are to avoid dangerous climate change.

Philip Vaughan, the London-based lawyer acting for the 10 oil companies who opposed Greenpeace, said they had no plans to appeal.

The ruling had been a technical victory for Greenpeace and would make little difference to the work being carried out in the area at present, he added.

Dr John Wils, of the United Kingdom Offshore Operators' Association UKOOA, said the present laws more or less met the existing habitat directives.

Reacting to the DTI's decision, he said it removed any further uncertainty and his only concern was the possibility of slight delays as one piece of legislation replaced another.

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See also:
05 Nov 99 |  Sci/Tech
Greenpeace victory prompts jobs warning
05 Jul 99 |  UK
Fears over whales safety
09 Aug 98 |  UK
Willy's free!
11 Oct 99 |  Sci/Tech
Protection demanded for whales

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