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Oil giant Esso wins pipeline protester injunction at High Court

Oil giant Esso wins pipeline protester injunction at High Court
Activist tunnelled underground near M25 – named in court order – accuses firm of ‘pouring fuel onto the flames’ of a world ‘on fire’

le Cour suprême has granted Esso an interim injunction to prevent protesters disrupting construction work on a vast aviation fuel pipeline in the south of England.

The oil giant, which is owned by ExxonMobil, received development consent in October 2020 to replace 90km of pipe between Hampshire and the firm’s terminal storage facility near Heathrow Airport – a project it insists will help keep 100 tankers a day off the road.

But activists warn the new pipeline will more than double the flow of fuel to Heathrow and accused Esso of continuing “to plan for growth in climate-destroying fossil fuel use” while the “world is on fire”.

Protesters have sought to disrupt the construction of the new pipeline by interfering with equipment, “attacking” it with angle grinders, and tunneling underground where the pipeline crosses the M25 in the Surrey borough of Runnymede, a judge was told.

Activist Scott Breen, also known as “Digger Down”, appears to have now been camped out for a fortnight in the tunnel at Chertsey, which lawyers for Esso told the High Court was at a “sensitive” position near the motorway needed by the firm’s contractors for access.

Esso was granted an interim injunction against Mr Breen and “persons unknown” following a hearing before Mr Justice Eyre at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Monday.

The oil giant had urgently sought the injunction to prevent people from “conspiring to injure” its business “by unlawful means”, Esso’s lawyer Timothy Morshead QC, said in written submissions.

“The unlawful means in question consist of the actual and threatened trespasses to goods and also to land which [Esso] has experienced – and which continues to be threatened against the pipeline project,” Mr Morshead said.

Il ajouta: “The activities carried out by some protesters go far beyond lawful and peaceful protest, and give rise to serious health and safety concerns.”

The company sought an order only applying to acts “with the intention of preventing or impeding construction of the Southampton to London Pipeline Project”, Mr Morshead said.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Eyre said there was “material indicating an agreement between a number of persons to disrupt the construction of the pipeline, to do so by entry onto private land and/or land which is enclosed for the purposes of the construction of the pipeline”.

He said the purpose of this was to “harm” Esso “by preventing it building the pipeline which it is authorised to build”, and said there had been “threats of further disruption” posted on the internet.

The judge noted that protest action came against a background of “strongly-held beliefs and concerns about the effect of air travel” and said he considered the “legitimate public interest in the changes to the climate”.

But he concluded an injunction was “proportionate and necessary to ensure that [Esso] is permitted to carry on its lawful activities”. He set a date of 7 September for the injunction, which has geographical limits, to be reconsidered by the court.

The judge said he was “just about persuaded” to order an injunction against Mr Breen, who was not represented at court. He noted that on social media Mr Breen had accepted that he had been asked to leave his pit by Esso and Runnymede Borough Council but he had not done so.

Mr Breen has 72 hours to remove himself once the order is served to him, le juge a dit.

The activist – who last year said he had dépensé 19 days in a tunnel near London’s Euston Station while protesting the HS2 rail project – said in a statement shortly after “locking on” at the Chertsey tunnel: “As the UK experiences record breaking temperatures, ExxonMobil continues to plan for growth in climate destroying fossil fuel use.

“Our world is on fire and ExxonMobil is pouring fuel onto the flames. The current pipeline still has at least twenty years of useful life left, time which could be used to scale back air travel and develop zero carbon alternatives.”

Rébellion d'extinction warned that the new pipeline will be wider than the existing pipeline – built in 1972 – “enabling the new pipe to supply 140 per cent more aviation fuel to Heathrow, aiding further expansion and increased flight numbers”.

Rapports supplémentaires par l'AP