The Esso oil company has obtained an interim injunction from the high court to prevent environmental protesters from disrupting construction work on a 105km-long aviation fuel pipeline.
Campaigners have focused on efforts to replace most of the Southampton-to-London underground pipeline by interfering with equipment and “attacking” it with angle grinders, a judge was told.
A protester, named in a court document as Scott Breen, barricaded himself alongside the M25 at Runnymede in Surrey in an effort to disrupt the installation of the replacement pipeline, a court heard.
The Southampton to London pipeline project, which received development consent in October 2020, aims to replace 90km of pipeline between Boorley Green in Hampshire and Esso’s West London Terminal storage facility in Hounslow, close to Heathrow airport.
Replacing the pipeline, originally built in 1972, will help keep 100 tanker trucks off the road a day, Esso says. It is scheduled to end next year.
ExxonMobil-owned Esso Petroleum Company Limited was granted an interim injunction against Breen and “unknown persons” after a hearing before Justice Eyre at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Monday.
Timothy Morshead QC, representing Esso, said in written submissions that he was urgently seeking the injunction to prevent people “conspiring to harm” his business “by unlawful means”.
“The illicit means in question consist of actual and threatened invasions of property and also of land that [Esso] has experienced, and continues to be threatened against the pipeline project,” Morshead said.
“The activities carried out by some protesters go far beyond legal and peaceful protests and generate serious health and safety problems.”
Morshead said the company sought an order that would only apply to acts “intended to prevent or impede the construction of the Southampton to London pipeline project.”
The lawyer said Breen, “a well-known tunneler”, had barricaded himself on land owned by Runnymede Council in a “sensitive” position near the motorway that Esso contractors needed to access.
“He has bragged about it on social media,” Morshead said.
Eyre said in his ruling that there was “material indicating an agreement between various persons to discontinue pipeline construction, to do so by entering private land and/or land that is fenced off for pipeline construction purposes. pipeline”.
He said the purpose of this was to “harm” Esso “by preventing it from building the pipeline it is authorized to build”, and said there were “threats of further disruption” posted on the internet.
The judge noted that the protest action occurred in a context of “deep-seated beliefs and concerns about the effect of air travel” and said that he considered the “legitimate public interest in changes in the climate.”
Eyre concluded that an injunction was “proportionate and necessary to ensure that [Esso] has permission to carry out his lawful activities.”
He set a date of September 7 for the court to reconsider the injunction, which is geographically bounded.
The judge said he was “almost persuaded” to order an injunction against Breen, who was not represented in court.
He noted that on social media, Breen had accepted that Esso and the council had asked him to abandon his well, dug in Chertsey, but had not done so.