UK Court Cans Ineos Anti-Protest Injunction
Ruling in a long-running dispute between anti-fracking campaigners and Ineos, the UK Court of Appeals has handed an at least partial victory to the protestors.
The judgment overturns several previous decisions by the UK’s High Court in favor of Ineos Shale, the UK offshoot of the Swiss-based chemical producer that is becoming increasingly involved in the country’s energy market.
Proceedings date back to an injunction won by Ineos in 2017 that threatened severe penalties for protests at drilling sites. This prohibited “unlawful acts” against the company as well as at other companies in its supply chain, including “slow walking” in front of trucks on local highways leading to the sites.
Under the injunction, anyone breaking the Ineos rules could be jailed, fined or have assets seized. Penalties also could be levied on those who were not on the company’s premises or on the highways, but had been active behind the scenes.
While the appeals court upheld the chemical company’s right to keep protestors off its own drilling sites, it said it could not make rules for other companies in its supply chain.
The judge also ordered the High Court to reconsider earlier decisions to balance Ineos’ rights with the Human Rights Act, saying that such wide-ranging injunctions are only legal after an offense has been committed, not in advance.
Since the initial injunction was granted, other energy companies, including Cuadrilla, UK Oil and Gas, Angus Energy and IGas, have leveraged the pro-Ineos decisions to keep protestors away from their sites.
Environmental groups have claimed that drilling companies are wielding a heavy-handed legal weapon to silence dissent. The initial challenge against the Ineos injunction was brought by campaigners Joe Boyd and Joe Corré and received support in later instances from NGO Friends of the Earth UK (FoE).
FoE called the appeals verdict “a humiliating defeat for Ineos and a victory for campaigners and human rights,” while Corré said it restored his confidence in the British legal system.
Reports quote Corré’s council Stephanie Harrison saying it is “now clear that the court will intervene to prevent powerful companies like Ineos using draconian injunctions to intimidate and deter people from participating in lawful protest against fracking.”
Ineos director Tom Pickering said he was pleased the court had upheld elements of the injunction “protecting people on and around our sites,” adding that the company’s legal team was discussing the next steps, “because we believe it is essential that the forces of law-and-order prevail.”
Scotland still studying permanent fracking ban
In Scotland, meanwhile, anti-fracking campaigners are unhappy with what they see as foot dragging by their government on turning the country’s existing moratorium on shale gas exploration a permanent, water-tight, ban.
A final decision had been promised for this year’s first quarter, but the government in Edinburgh now says additional consultation is necessary and has not announced a proposed date for a decision.
Scotland fought back a challenge from Ineos against its fracking decision last year, when it argued that a permanent moratorium did not constitute a ban. Friends of the Earth Scotland called on the government to “stop dilly-dallying and bring its long drawn out process on unconventional oil and gas to an end.”