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Friends of the Earth wins legal battle

Tuesday 18 March – The High Court has ruled that a Government department must hand over information to Friends of the Earth about a controversial oil and gas project.  Friends of the Earth requested the information under freedom of information laws when the Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD) was considering financing oil and gas exploration off the north-east coast of Sakhalin, a Russian island north of Japan.
Friends of the Earth first contacted the ECGD [1] in March 2005 to ask for information about the Government's views of the environmental and human rights impacts of the Sakhalin II project. The ECGD refused to release the information - which consists of communications with other Government departments.  The ECGD's refusal was upheld by the Information Commissioner.  However, Friends of the Earth appealed that decision to the Information Tribunal who ruled in favour of Friends of the Earth last August and ordered the ECGD to release the information [2]. The Government appealed that decision to the High Court.

Friends of the Earth's Head of Legal, Phil Michaels, said:
"We are delighted that the High Court has ordered the Government to reveal information about the Sakhalin oil and gas exploration project. The Government should have given Friends of the Earth this information three years ago when we first requested it. The Government should now stop dragging this matter through the Courts and release the information to the public. This is of enormous public interest because at the time of these discussions the Government was considering putting hundreds of millions of pounds into a project with enormous negative environmental effects. The public has a right to know what the Government was saying about Sakhalin behind closed doors."

On 4 March, it was reported that the energy company behind the project - Sakhalin Energy - had withdrawn its application for funding from the ECGD and from the US Export Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank). However, the construction of Sakhalin II continues and is now 90 per cent complete. [3]

Friends of the Earth is deeply concerned about the Sakhalin oil and gas project which is likely to:

  • push the endangered Western Grey Whale towards extinction;

  • have a significant impact on climate change;

  • pollute the surrounding area;

  • threaten human rights by displacing indigenous peoples;

  • damage wetlands and bird life in the affected areas.

See report [4] for further details about the projected environmental impacts.


[1] The Export Credits Guarantee Department is the UK's official Export Credit Agency.

Established in 1919, ECGD is a separate Government Department that reports to the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and derives its powers from the Export and Investment Guarantees Act 1991.

[2] In its judgment last August, the Information Tribunal stated that the ECGD, was "unable to advance any evidence of any real or substantive weight which could have lead the Tribunal to determine that there existed a real, as distinct from an imagined, harm or prejudice which would necessarily result from the requested disclosure".

The Tribunal also said "Given the long-standing undisputed public debate regarding all the relevant issues, particularly environmental and social issues regarding Sakhalin II as is clearly apparent from Friends of the Earth's own witnesses' evidence, there appears to this Tribunal to be a weighty public interest in the need for the public to be acquainted with (the information)".

The original judgment is at ¬
(PDF† )


[4] (PDF† )

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Published by Friends of the Earth Trust