Five-member panel of the Bulgarian Supreme Administrative Court recently ruled that during the process of co-ordination of overall work plans, including oil and gas exploration developments and investments, shall be considered the necessity of having environmental assessments.

Although this ruling (Decision No. 6791, dated 31 May 2017) is binding only to the parties that have brought the dispute to court, the decision carries important implications to the Bulgarian resource industry since the Ministry of Environment and Waters strictly follows the interpretations of this court.

The arguments the court used in its ruling include:

  • The interpretation that overall work plans, including exploratory drilling for oil and gas, falls within the definition of “plans and programmes” in the Environment Protection Act or EPA (see State Gazette Issue No. 91/25.09.2002), and should be regarded as a programme.
  • Such overall work plans fall within the scope of chapter six of the EPA regulating environmental assessments and environmental impact assessments.
  • They frame future developments within investment proposals, particularly for oil and gas exploratory drilling.
  • The Ordinance on the Terms and Conditions for Carry out of Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes (see State Gazette No. 57/2.07.2004) explicitly provides that such programmes are subject of assessment for the necessity of having environmental assessment.

Based on the above considerations, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that in this particular case the overall work plan was subject to assessment for having environmental assessment.