Performance artists demonstrate oil spill in Scotland.

The "oil slicks" performance artist group demonstrates the impacts of a potential oil spill on Scotland's Moray Firth as part of a North Sea-wide day of action on March 16, 2024.

(Photo: XR Forres)

'North Sea Fossil Free': Activists in 6 Countries Protest 'Unhinged' Oil and Gas Development

"Going full steam ahead with new North Sea oil and gas is a sure fire route to the worst climate scenarios," one campaigner said.

Climate activists in six North Sea countries came together on Saturday to carry out acts of civil disobedience in protest of their governments' continued fossil fuel development.

Demonstrators in the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands blockaded roads, ports, and refineries; dropped banners; and held solidarity concerts as part of the North Sea Fossil Free campaign to demand that their governments align their plans for the shared body of water with the Paris agreement goal of limiting global heating to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels.

"For too long, the U.K., Norway, and other North Sea countries have avoided scrutiny for their oil drilling plans as the emissions are not included in their national inventories," a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion U.K. told Common Dreams. "Going full steam ahead with new North Sea oil and gas is a sure fire route to the worst climate scenarios."

"The only serious response we can make is for citizens to unite, but we need to see many many more people doing this work."

The day of action, which was organized by Extinction Rebellion (XR), came days after a new report from Oil Change International revealed that none of five North Sea countries—Norway, the U.K., the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark—have plans consistent either with limiting warming to 1.5°C or with the agreement to transition away from fossil fuels reached at last year's United Nations COP28 climate conference. If the five countries were counted as one, they would be the seventh biggest producer of oil and gas in the world.

In particular, these governments continue to issue permits to explore for and develop oil and gas fields, despite the fact that the International Energy Agency has said that no new fossil fuel development is compatible with limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C. In one high-profile example, the U.K. approved the undeveloped Rosebank oil field in September 2023. Taken together, these permits could lead to more than 10 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

The worst offenders were Norway and the U.K., which could be among the top 20 developers of oil and gas fields through mid-century if they do not change course.

"The five major North Sea countries are at a crossroads: One path leads toward global leadership in climate action and green industries, where they take bold action to phase out oil and gas production that creates sustainable jobs and communities. The other path leads to catastrophic climate change, economic crisis, and the loss of status as climate leaders globally, as they cling to outdated practices while the world moves forward," Silje Ask Lundberg, North Sea campaign manager at Oil Change International, said when the report was released.

Extinction Rebellion co-founder Clare Farrell said that the North Sea governments' policies were a betrayal of their citizens and the world following the hottest year on record.

"Temperatures have tracked 1.5°C above average recently, almost 2°C," Farrell said. "Our global commitments, such that they are, are being flushed away with no regard for what the public really want. Where's the consent for that here in our democracies? No government has a mandate to do that. So people deserve to know that our governments are willfully destroying everything. The people of these North Sea nations have not consented to destroying civilization, but that's what is going to happen. Their governments are unhinged and unchecked."

Saturday's protests, Farrell continued, were a way for the people in these countries to make their voices heard.

"The only serious response we can make is for citizens to unite, but we need to see many many more people doing this work," Farrell said. "Direct action like this should shake us awake; our governments will destroy democracy and society if we let them continue, that's the course we are on, and they are redoubling their efforts despite the facts and knowing how much suffering they are already causing all over the world as climate breaks down."

The demands of Saturday's protests were threefold: An end to new oil and gas infrastructure in the North Sea, for governments to tell the truth about the realities of the climate crisis, and for the countries to pursue a just transition to renewable energy. In addition, many activists made additional demands specific to their nations' policies.

The Netherlands

In the Netherlands, activists with Extinction Rebellion and Scientist Rebellion blocked all roads and railways leading to the largest oil refinery in Europe: Shell's Pernis refinery. They targeted Shell because the oil major has received new permits to drill in the Victory Gas Field and has also restarted its drilling in the Pierce Field. What's more, the company has refused to clean up its aging equipment in the North Sea, leaving old pipelines and drilling platforms to rust and pollute the sea with mercury, polonium, and radioactive lead. While there are 75 aging Shell oil and gas platforms in the Dutch North Sea that should be removed by 2035, current efforts are not on track to meet this deadline.

"Like the rest of the fossil industry, Shell is only interested in profits and shareholder returns," said Bram Kroezen of XR Netherlands, adding that Shell's appeal of a landmark court ruling ordering it to reduce emissions showed that the company "completely lacks a moral compass."


Activists with Ende Gelände blocked off access to a floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in the port of Brunsbüttel, Germany, beginning at 9:00 am local time. The activists are calling for an end to LNG imports, as new science reveals the so-called "bridge" fuel may in fact be at least as damaging to the climate as coal due to previously unaccounted for methane leaks.

"LNG is a double climate killer," Rita Tesch, spokesperson for Ende Gelände, said in a statement. "Because it consists of methane. Methane is even more harmful to the climate than carbon dioxide. It escapes into the atmosphere during transportation by LNG ships and at terminals such as here in Brunsbüttel, and heats it up rapidly. The carbon dioxide from burning it is on top of that. It's clear: LNG imports are a climate crime!"


Activists with XR Norway targeted Rafnes Petroleum Refinery, with some blockading access on land while another group entered the security area by boat.

"I'm ashamed to be a Norwegian," XR Norway spokesperson Jonas Kittelsen said in a statement. "Norway profits massively from aggressively expanding our oil and gas sector, causing mass suffering and death globally. My government portrays us as better than the rest of the world, which we are not."


Performance collective Becoming Species and Extinction Rebellion Denmark worked together to stage a creative protest targeting the oil company Total Energies, which is the leading oil and gas producer in the Danish North Sea and currently has plans to reopen "Tyra Feltet," Denmark's largest gas field. Four members of the band Octopussy Riot climbed a Total-owned container and staged a punk concert in Denmark's Esbjerg Harbor.

"We octopuses have formed the band Octopussy Riot and have arrived here to play our song, a demand for you two-legs to stop oil and gas extraction," performer Linh Le, said. "The sea is dying, our climate collapsing. We will not accept that the most rich and powerful destroy our home. We do not want to go extinct."


Members of XR Sweden blocked the road to Gothenburg's Oil Harbor, where the group has been protesting since May of 2022. The activists called on Sweden to stop investing in the harbor and on city officials to develop a plan to dismantle the harbor and refineries.

"Twenty-two million tons of oil enter Gothenburg's port every year, which is owned by the city," one activist said. "There is no plan for decommissioning. This does not go together with the climate goals."


Finally, protesters across Scotland stood in solidarity with the other actions with performances and banner drops. In Aberdeen, activists unfurled banners outside the offices of Equinor, which owns 80% of Rosebank, and Ithaca, which owns the remaining 20%. The banners read, "North Sea Fossil Free," "Stop Rosebank," and "Sea knows no borders." In Dundee, protesters targeted the Valaris 123 oil platform off the coast with banners. Shetland Stop Rosebank also brought signs to Lerwick Harbor, from where the first stage of Rosebank's development is launching. XR Forres organized a performance of the group the "oil slicks" along the Moray Firth, to demonstrate what an oil spill would do to its unique coastal landscape.

"All countries should align their drilling plans with the Paris agreement now," the XR U.K. spokesperson said. "We thank everyone who has taken action today in defense of a livable planet."

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