Greenpeace 'Shuts Down' Arctic Oil Rig

Published on
by
The Guardian/UK

Greenpeace 'Shuts Down' Arctic Oil Rig

Environmental campaigners slip through security boats to scale Cairn Energy oil rig in dawn raid

by
Severin Carrell and Bibi van der Zee

Cairn Energy's Stena Don oil rig is scaled by Greenpeace campaigners to prevent it from drilling off the coast of Greenland. (Photograph: Will Rose/Greenpeace)

Greenpeace claims to have shut down offshore drilling by a British oil company at a controversial site in the Arctic after four climbers began an occupation of the rig just after dawn.

The
environment campaigners said the four protesters evaded a small
flotilla of armed Danish navy and police boats which have been guarding
the rigs in Baffin Bay off Greenland since the Greenpeace protest ship Esperanza arrived last week.

The rigs are operated by the Edinburgh-based oil exploration company Cairn Energy, which last week prompted world-wide alarm among environmentalists after disclosing it had found the first evidence of oil or gas deposits under the Arctic.

Several
multinational oil companies, including Exxon. Chevron and Shell, are
waiting for permission from Greenland to begin deep sea drilling in the
Arctic's pristine waters.

Campaigners claim this led to a
dangerous rush to exploit one of the world's last major untapped
reserves in one of its most fragile locations. The US Geological Survey
last year estimated there may be 90bn barrels of oil and 50tn cubic
metres of gas across the Arctic.

The campaign group said: "At dawn
this morning our expert climbers in inflatable speed boats dodged
Danish Navy commandos before climbing up the inside of the rig and
hanging from it in tents suspended from ropes, halting its drilling
operation.

"The climbers have enough supplies to occupy the
hanging tents for several days. If they succeed in stopping drilling for
just a short time then the operators, Britain's Cairn Energy,
will struggle to meet a tight deadline to complete the exploration
before winter ice conditions force it to abandon the search for oil off
Greenland until next year."

The occupation comes after a nine-day
stand-off between Greenpeace and the Danish navy, which has sent its
frigate Vaedderen to the area, deploying elite Danish commandos on
high-speed boats to patrol a 500m exclusion zone around the rigs.

Last
week the Danes warned the Esperanza it would be forcibly boarded and
its captain arrested if it breached the security zone. After Greenpeace
launched its helicopter to take photographs, the security area was
extended to include a 1,800m high air exclusion zone.

Greenpeace
argues that the Arctic drilling programme is extremely perilous because
of the sea ice and intense weather conditions in the region, and claims
it is one of the 10 most dangerous drilling sites in the world. The
Baffin Bay area is known as "iceberg alley". Last week, it filmed a
support vessel trying to break up an iceberg using high pressure hoses.

It
says the risks posed by this operation go "far beyond" the Deepwater
Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico; in the Arctic an oil spill
would destroy the region's vulnerable and untouched habitats, while the
cold water would prevent any oil from quickly breaking up. Any emergency
operation to tackle a disaster would encounter huge technical and
logistical problems in such a remote area.

Cairn Energy was targeted by climate protesters who occupied the grounds of the Royal Bank of Scotland headquarters near Edinburgh last week. Cairn's offices in the city centre were smeared with molasses to symbolise oil.

The
company argues it is there at Greenland's invitation, to help bolster
and strengthen the island's economy. It also insisted its drilling
operations obeyed some of the world's strictest environmental and safety
regulations. "We've put procedures in place to give the highest
possible priority to safety and environmental protection," it said.

It
emerged last week that BP had withdrawn from applying to join in the
Greenland oil exploration programme, a direct consequence of the
Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Sim McKenna, one of the Greenpeace
climbers on board the Cairn rig, said: "We've got to keep the energy
companies out of the Arctic and kick our addiction to oil, that's why
we're going to stop this rig from drilling for as long as we can.

"The
BP Gulf oil disaster showed us it's time to go beyond oil. The drilling
rig we're hanging off could spark an Arctic oil rush, one that would
pose a huge threat to the climate and put this fragile environment at
risk."

Morten Nielsen, deputy head of Greenland police, said the
four protesters would be arrested and prosecuted. "The position of the
Greenlandic police is that this is a clear violation of the law, the
penal code of Greenland. The perpetrators will be prosecuted by the
Greenlandic authorities," he said.

"But what we intend to do, how and when, is an operational detail it wouldn't be smart to advise Greenpeace about."

Speaking
from the island's capital, Nuuk, Nielsen confirmed that the police had
rescue vessels close by the protesters in case any fell into the water,
which was only a few degrees above freezing. He denied the police and
navy had been outwitted by the protesters setting off at dawn.

"We
have to evaluate the downside of any interception," he said. "The
highest value we have to preserve is life and if the result of
intercepting the Greenpeace activists would bring the police or for that
matter the activists' lives in jeopardy, we are not going to intercept
right now."

In a separate development, two protesters on
trial in Copenhagen for terrorism-related offences during the UN climate
summit last December have been cleared. Of the nearly 2,000 people
arrested, a small number which includes 13 Greenpeace activists, are
still awaiting trial.

The original charges facing Natasha Verco
and Noah Weiss included organising violence and significant damage to
property and carried a maximum 12-and-a-half-year sentence. Those
charges were subsequently reduced to less serious offences, but today a
court in Copenhagen cleared the pair entirely.

Verco, who
was arrested while riding her bike near the Copenhagen lakes and held in
prison for three weeks, said: "I'm so happy, it's so wonderful... The
whole experience has been appalling, terrifying, something I never
expected. To be imprisoned for three weeks on the most ridiculous
accusations, and then to have to wait for nine months to be acquitted,
it's made me see Denmark very differently."

Share This Article

More in: