The London high court is expected to rule within three weeks on whether the UK government has breached the EU habitats directive by applying its requirements only up to 12 nautical miles from the coast. In a four-day hearing ending yesterday, Greenpeace challenged this position, arguing that the directive should be applied up to 200 nautical miles from the coast since the UK claims exclusive economic rights up to this distance. Supported by a coalition of other leading environmental groups, Greenpeace claims that future licensing for oil development in the Atlantic is illegal until conservation measures are introduced for species such as whales, dolphins and coral reefs. If the case goes against the government, then it could have significant implications for further oil and gas exploration in the region, known as the "Atlantic frontier". The extent to which Greenpeace's case is backed by established EU law is unclear. However, the European Commission said earlier this year that, in its view, the habitats directive should be applied up to 200 miles if a member state also exerted its right to an exclusive economic zone of the same distance (ENDS Daily 21 July). In defence of the existing policy, the government argued that there was no evidence that current or future oil and gas activity would harm "the conservation status" of whales or dolphins.
Greenpeace UK, tel: +44 171 865 8255; UK environment ministry, tel: +44 171 890 3000.
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