The High Court legal challenge into oil drilling at Dunsfold has been confirmed for June 8.
The case will examine planning permission granted for exploratory drilling of £123million of oil near the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The UK Oil and Gas (UKOG) was originally refused planning permission to search for fossil fuels at Loxley Well in Dunsfold in December 2020 by Surrey County Council’s planning committee.
UKOG appealed in June 2022 after a public inquiry and was given the green light by the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, led by Surrey Heath MP Michael Gove.
Almost immediately, Waverley Borough Council challenged the appeal decision in the High Court with £13,000 set aside for the legal challenge.
In March this year anti-fracking campaigners celebrated the news that the case would be heard in the High Court after being granted a judicial review.
The June 8 date was pencilled in for the hearing, and this week it was set in stone after some discussion over potentially moving the date.
The case has been picked up by the Good Law Project and is being challenged on two fronts.
The first, they argue, relates to the “inconsistency in decision-making by the Secretary of State” who approved Dunsfold drilling the same day he refused a comparable site in Ellesmere Port over greenhouse gas emissions.
The second argument relates to the drilling site being on the edge of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and national policy requires planning decisions to give great weight to “conserving and enhancing landscape and scenic beauty” in AONBs.
Good Law Project legal manager, Jennine Walker said: “Let’s be clear: exploiting our natural landscape for fossil fuels should be a thing of the past and is completely at odds with our crucial efforts to reach net-zero.
“This is why we are delighted to be supporting the next stage of Protect Dunsfold’s legal challenge which seeks to overturn the Government’s scandalous decision to overrule the local council and give the green light to a gas exploration scheme in the Surrey Hills.
“The High Court recently confirmed Protect Dunsfold’s case is arguable and we now look forward to the hearing in June at which we hope the Judge will overturn the Government’s scandalous decision”.
MP Jeremy Hunt said the plans should be “formally shelved” altogether.
A crowdfunding page has also been launched for those looking to support the legal challenge.
Campaigners have previously expressed fear the UKOG application could pave the way for further drilling in the Surrey Weald, which stretches from the eastern outskirts of London to the Hampshire border.
The area is believed to contain significant shale oil reserves, and several energy companies have expressed interest in extracting them.
However, these plans have been met with opposition from environmentalists and local residents, who are concerned about the potential impact on the landscape, water resources, and wildlife.
The UKOG application in particular has been the subject of numerous protests and legal challenges, with opponents arguing that it would set a dangerous precedent for the further exploitation of unconventional fossil fuels in the region.
Proponents of shale oil extraction in the UK argue that developing domestic fuel reserves would improve the country's energy security and reduce reliance on imported gas, particularly in light of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which has raised concerns over Europe's energy supplies.
Chris Caulfield (Local Democracy Reporter)