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Shell Sues to Ban Public Protest Against Arctic Drilling

Hefty fine aimed at Greenpeace for Arctic actions

- Common Dreams staff

Oil company Royal Dutch Shell went to court Friday to ban public protest against the company's Arctic drilling plans.

A protest at a Shell gas station in the Netherlands -- with stuffed polar bear (AFP/ANP/File, Marcel Antonisse) In a lawsuit filed against environmental organization Greenpeace, the company pushed for a $1.3 million fine to stop Greenpeace protests at Shell sites. A verdict is not expected for two weeks.

Shell, which has invested $4.5 billion in Arctic drilling ambitions, requested a ban on any protest within 500 meters of Shell property, reacting specifically to a Greenpeace protest in the Netherlands last week, wherein activists used bicycle locks to shut down pumps at dozens of petrol stations. Greenpeace has engaged in numerous protests against Shell over the course of the year as part of their international Save the Arctic Campaign.

In response, Greenpeace called the lawsuit a "legal sledgehammer to stifle public discourse."

Greenpeace argued the lawsuit is part of "a thinly-veiled attempt to prevent public scrutiny of the true cost of its drilling campaign and its ability to deal with a disastrous oil spill." Shell is also pursuing three suits against Greenpeace USA and 13 other environmental and Indigenous organizations in Alaska who have posed legal challenges to Shell's Arctic operating licenses.

Shell received the second of its two final permits for exploratory drilling on Thursday from the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, but drilling operations have been continuously delayed due to dangerous ice conditions and equipment failures during test runs.

Greenpeace has continued to campaign against the operations, arguing that drilling in the Arctic is inherently risky and Shell's safety plans are inadequate.

Earlier this week, scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) announced that Arctic sea ice was at its lowest level ever in recorded history. The opening of waters in the Arctic has spurred an international race for oil, gas, and mineral reserves in the region.

Following the announcement, leading scientific experts and environmental campaigners renewed call to action, calling the situation a "planetary emergency" at a news conference on Thursday.

"In just over 30 years we have altered the way our planet looks from space and soon the North Pole may be completely ice free in summer. Rather than dealing with the root causes of climate change the current response from our leaders is to watch the ice melt and then divide up the spoils," stated Kumi Naidoo, the international head of Greenpeace.

Naidoo called the race to save the Arctic from further drilling "the defining environmental battle of our era."

That battle's main opponent, those who continue to pursue the exploration of fossil fuels in fragile and pristine waters, are now attempting to legally stifle public dissent.

For Greenpeace, Ben Ayliffe writes today:

"So, on the one hand we have an NGO with a smattering of activists, some of them dressed up as polar bears, going around petrol stations and alarming customers of Shell’s plans.

On the other hand, we have a company already guilty of causing catastrophic climate change that is also trying to start an extremely reckless oil operation in the Arctic. One of these two is currently demanding that a judge order the other to stop all dangerous operations, and asking that they pay 1 million euros if they break this interdict.

Care to guess which is which? [...]

This matters – not only to Greenpeace's right to protest, but also yours."

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