A corporate giant is taking Nicola Sturgeon’s government to court over ‘human rights violations’

INEOS logo and Nicola Sturgeon
Steve Topple

On Tuesday 8 May, a legal challenge against Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish government began. A corporate giant is claiming the Holyrood government breached its human rights. And the case centres on a highly controversial topic: fracking.

A controversial company

INEOS is a multinational fossil fuels company that’s involved in shale gas extraction, or ‘fracking’. It’s already controversial, as farmers and landowners are up in arms about the way INEOS deals with them. The company has also fallen out with the National Trust, which it’s taking to court after the organisation refused to allow it to frack on Trust land.

In perhaps its most audacious move yet, INEOS is taking the Scottish government to court over what it says is an “unlawful” ban on fracking.

Sturgeon’s government in court

As The Canary‘s Andrea Needham previously reported, Sturgeon’s government effectively banned fracking in October 2017. After a pause on fracking in 2015, the Scottish government ran a consultation on it. Around 99% of more than 60,000 responses opposed fracking. The Scottish Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy, Paul Wheelhouse, said the ban came after the government had:

taken account of the interests of the environment, our economy, public health and the overwhelming majority of public opinion…

INEOS was not happy, and it launched a legal challenge against the decision. It centred on the Westminster government having granted it permission to frack across roughly 700 sq miles of land in Scotland.

Now, with the Scottish government’s ban, INEOS claims it’s lost money, as well as having its human rights breached [pdf, p10]. It says that Sturgeon’s government made:

very serious errors within the decision-making process, including a failure to adhere to proper statutory process and a misuse of ministerial power.

Tom Pickering, operations director at INEOS Shale, said:

The decision in October was a major blow to Scottish science and its engineering industry, as well as being financially costly to INEOS… It also removed… the potential for the country in these uncertain times to secure its own indigenous energy supply. We have serious concerns about the legitimacy of the ban and have therefore applied to the court to ask that it review the competency of the decision to introduce it.

But the Scottish government disagrees. According to BBC News, it took a “careful and considered approach” when deciding to ban fracking, with a “detailed assessment of evidence”.


The case will be heard at Scotland’s supreme civil court, the Court of Session. It will be controversial due to the opposition to fracking. Aside from the obvious air pollution generated from burning fossil fuels, fracking has been linked to polluted drinking water and earthquakes. Studies have also shown links to low birth weights, premature births, and a possible increased risk of breast cancer.

In a move indicative of the highly-charged arguments surrounding fracking, a judge has given Friends of the Earth permission to intervene in the case. It has submitted evidence about the environmental impact of the industry. But the case is not only about the environment and health impacts of fracking. It’s also about the very nature of our democracy.

When multinational companies can take elected governments to court over financial losses, it’s worrying. When it involves government decisions the public overwhelmingly support, it’s a sad day for democracy.

Get Involved!

– Stay up to date with fracking news from DrillOrDrop.

– Read more about fracking from The Canary.

Featured image via INEOS – YouTube and BBC News – YouTube

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