UK ministers have failed to consider the greenhouse gas emissions which could result from new licences for oil and gas extraction in the North Sea, campaigners have told the High Court.

Greenpeace has brought a legal challenge after Tory ministers opened a new round of oil and gas licensing for the seabed off the north and east coast of Britain last October.

Greenpeace and Uplift, another campaign group, argue the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has begun the licensing round without considering the greenhouse gas emissions that will result from burning the fossil fuels.

More than 100 bids for exploration and development of the North Sea have been received since the 33rd round of licensing opened.

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A hearing in London on Tuesday was also told the UK Government should have considered alternatives to new fossil fuel licensing.

Ministers have said the new oil and gas licensing round is aimed at bolstering the UK’s current energy supply as well as its future security, as the ongoing war in Ukraine sees European nations struggle with high fuel costs.

Representing Greenpeace in court, James McClelland KC said the areas identified for extraction could result in “hundreds of millions” of barrels of oil and cubic feet of gas being produced.

He suggested it was feasible for the Government to assess the amount of greenhouse gases that burning these new fuels would release into the atmosphere, but claimed ministers had chosen not to because of an “insufficient causal connection”.

Mr McClelland added: “The refusal to assess end use emissions was irrational and breached applicable regulations.

“The use of oil and gas emissions was an integral feature of the plan itself.

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“Even if it was not, the fact that the use of oil and gas for that purpose, for energy, was the plan’s clear specific objective means that the use was totally causally connected to the plan, and it was therefore irrational to disconnect those emissions from the likely effect of the plan.”

Uplift, meanwhile, argued the Government should have considered end use emissions when it was testing whether new domestic oil and gas would be compatible with the UK’s climate goals.

Representing Uplift, Estelle Dehon KC said in a written argument that ministers had failed to “assess reasonable alternatives” to new homegrown fossil fuels.

The campaigners have asked the judge, Mr Justice Holgate, to declare the Government acted unlawfully in adopting its offshore energy plan and to quash the Government’s endorsement of the latest oil and gas licensing round.

They also brought their case against the Oil and Gas Authority, now known as the North Sea Transition Authority, which is responsible for regulating the offshore industry.

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The judge was told that “end use emissions were not likely a significant effect” of the Government’s offshore energy plans.

For the Government, Richard Turney added that alternatives to new licensing were unlikely to meet the UK’s energy needs.

He said in a written argument: “As to the alternative of not proceeding with further licensing, that was found not to meet all of the objectives of the plan/programme, and again end use emissions were not considered.”

He added: “Overall, in its consideration of oil and gas production in the UK, the Government has sought to ensure that important national concerns such as energy security and economic productivity can be safeguarded and promoted as much as possible consistently with the UK’s legal obligations to reduce carbon emissions to Net Zero by 2050.

“The striking of that balance was firmly a matter for ministers.”

The hearing is due to conclude on Wednesday, with a ruling expected at a later date.