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Expert's Warning Affirms Arctic 30's Clarion Call: Oil Spill 'Inevitable'

St. Petersburg court announces release of nine protesters on bail; one held for prolonged detainment

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

As the fate of the Arctic 30 protesters has become a point of international outcry, their message—when they staged their peaceful action atop a Russian drilling platform—lives on: We must "Save the Arctic."

Validating the environmentalists' warning that gas and oil drilling in Arctic waters is a clear threat to the pristine wilderness, an oil spill expert told the Guardian Tuesday that should drilling continue there, a major spill is "inevitable" and would cause untold damage to the ecosystem.

"It is inevitable you will get a spill – a dead cert," Simon Boxall, an oil spill expert from the University of Southampton, told the paper. "I would expect to see a major spill in the not too distant future. I would be astonished if you did not see a major spill from this."

As Boxall explains, compounding any spill are the frigid temperatures, which prevent the oil from naturally breaking down as it does in more temperate waters where bacteria help digest the oil. "In the Arctic the oil does not break down in this way – it can take decades before it breaks down," he warns. "Nature will not help us."

Further, Boxall notes, the drilling industry is one fraught with mistakes. "Corners are cut, money is saved in small ways. Then it can go wrong and end up costing a huge amount of money, like in the Gulf of Mexico," he adds.

Boxall's warning confirms the message of the 28 Greenpeace activists and 2 journalists who defied Russian authorities in September when they boarded a Gazprom oil platform in an act of civil disobedience against Arctic drilling.

"Peacefully protesting for the protection of the pristine Arctic is not a crime, it is a great service to mankind," said Ben Ayliffe, Greenpeace International Arctic campaigner, in a statement condemning their imprisonment.

The protesters were hoping to bring awareness to the devastation caused by an "inevitable" spill as well as the additional 520 million tons of carbon pollution the drilling would add to the atmosphere each year. 

"In an age of cynicism and political apathy in many countries, the activists did something about an issue they care passionately about," Ayliffe added. "They saw that oil platform as a threat to a fragile, beautiful environment. They protested peacefully, driven by their convictions, and for that they are being unjustly punished."

After two months of detention, a St. Petersburg court ruled Tuesday that 9 of the Arctic 30 can be freed on bail following the release on bail of three Russian activists Monday.

The Guardian reports:

New Zealander David Haussmann and Brazilian Ana Paula Maciel were granted release from pre-trial detention on payment of a 2m rouble (£38,000) bail surety on Tuesday morning, and as the day progressed activists from Finland, France, Italy, Argentina, Poland and Canada had bail requests approved on the same conditions.

On Wednesday two of the six British citizens among the detainees, activist Alexandra Harris and freelance videographer Kieron Bryan, will have their bail requests heard.

However, on Monday 59-year-old Australian citizen Colin Russell had his detention extended following the rejection of his bail application on the grounds that he could flee the country or interfere in an investigation—a ruling Greenpeace's Mads Christensen called a "scandal" that "bears no relation to the administration of justice."

In a statement following the news of Russell's rejected application, Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace said:

In the space of two mornings we have had good news and bad, and the good news comes with a warning. We still have no idea what conditions our friends will endure when they are released from jail, whether they will be held under house arrest or even allowed outside.

What we do know for certain is that they are still charged and could spend years behind bars if they are convicted for a crime they did not commit. And we remain baffled and heartbroken that our colleague Colin was refused bail and sent back to prison for three months.

The Arctic 30 will not be free until every last one of them is back home with their families.

Greenpeace is providing live updates as the hearings progress.

Those named as being bailed on Tuesday are: Ana Paula Maciels, 31, from Brazil; Miguel Hernan Perez Orsi, 40, Argentina; David Haussmann, 49, New Zealand; Sini Saarela, 31, Finland; Paul Ruzycki, 48, Canada; Camila Speziale, 21, Argentina; Tomasz Dziemianczuk, 36, Poland; Francesco Pisanu, 38, France; Cristian D'Alessandro, 32, Italy.

And the three Russian detainees granted bail Monday are Andrey Allakhverdov, Ekaterina Zaspa and freelance photographer Denis Sinyakov.


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