‘A scandal’: Government hit with legal challenge over decision to approve Jackdaw gas field

The UK government has been hit with fresh legal action over its decision to give Shell the greenlight to develop the Jackdaw gas field in the North Sea, with claimant Greenpeace arguing Ministers failed to adequately consider the potential climate impacts of the project.

The campaign group today said it had launched a legal challenge against the government’s decision in the Scottish Courts, on the grounds that Ministers had failed in their legal duty to thoroughly check the environmental impacts of the fossil gas extraction project before granting final approval last month.

Greenpeace claims the use of gas extracted from the field will generate more CO2 than the entire annual emissions of Ghana, and that the government failed in its duty to consider the climate damage caused as a result of developing the project when granting approval.

It also pointed to a “major disconnect” between the government’s approval of the project in June and its decision one month later to declare a national emergency when the UK baked in temperatures that rose above 40C for the first time on record.

Philip Evans, oil and gas transition campaigner for Greenpeace UK, described the Jackdaw approval as a “scandal” and “an astonishing dereliction of the government’s legal duty”.

“The government knows that burning fossil fuels drives the climate crisis, yet they’re approving a new gas field in June, without proper climate checks, and declaring a national emergency over heatwaves in July,” he said. “Meanwhile household bills are soaring, and the government is ignoring common sense solutions – like home insulation, heat pumps and cheap renewable power.”

The Jackdaw gas field is expected to produce 40,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day when it comes online in the second half of 2025, accounting for more than six per cent of projected UK North Sea gas production, according to Shell.

The oil and gas giant secured final development consent in early June, shortly after the launch of the government’s Energy Security Strategy, which sets out controversial plans aimed at boosting domestic production of fossil gas in the North Sea in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that has further driven up energy prices around the world.

Many experts have pointed out that oil and gas extracted in UK waters will still be sold on international markets to the highest bidder, meaning that the development of new projects in the North Sea are unlikely to have any impact on energy prices.

With the price of gas set internationally, some have also argued that ramping up domestic fossil fuel supplies risks leaving UK billpayers exposed to volatile and expensive gas markets for decades to come, in contrast to clean, homegrown energy technologies such as renewables, insulation and heat pumps that serve to reduce demand for fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency (IEA) as well as the world’s top climate scientists at the IPCC have said that no further new fossil fuel extraction projects should be developed anywhere around the world if the chances of limiting average temperature rise to 1.5C – as set out in the Paris Agreement – are to be kept on the table.

A spokesperson from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said the government could not directly comment on live legal proceedings.

However, BEIS said in a statement that the Jackdaw project would significantly boost the UK’s supplies of fossil gas, and insisted that authorities had concluded the project would have a negligible effect on the environment.

“The North Sea Transition Authority granted consent to the Jackdaw project, which will boost domestic gas supply in the years to come,” they said. “This was on the basis of Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment and Decommissioning considering the environmental statement of the project and concluding that it will not have a significant impact on the environment.”

Shell, meanwhile, said it was aware of Greenpeace’s legal challenge in relation to the Jackdaw project decision, and that “the court will decide in due course on whether this challenge is allowed to proceed”.

“As per the regulatory approvals given and final investment decision taken, we are progressing the project which has the potential to produce more than six per cent of UK gas production at a time when UK energy security is critically required,” Shell added in a statement .

In a separate legal action, Greenpeace is seeking permission from the Supreme Court to challenge a field permit being awarded to BP to extract oil from the Vorlich field in the North Sea, after it lost its initial bid against the government in the Scottish Courts.

It also plans to lodge a third legal challenge a against the Cambo oil field if the government gives the project the go-ahead. Shell, which is a minority stakeholder in Cambo, had said it would no longer pursue the project, but the majority stake is now owned by Ithica Energy, which has insisted the project is going ahead.

Evans said Greenpeace stood ready to fight all future approvals of new UK fossil fuel projects in the courts. “We’re taking legal action to stop Jackdaw, and whenever we see the government acting illegally to greenlight new fossil fuels we stand ready to fight in the courts,” he said.

It comes just a week after a High Court judge ordered the government to revise and strengthen its headline Net Zero Strategy, ruling that the existing climate plan is inadequate for delivery on the UK’s statutory emissions targets under the Climate Change Act 2008.

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