08 September 2010
Banner on Iceberg off Cape Farewell
Greenpeace activists climb an iceberg off Cape Farewell on the southern tip of Greenland after being escorted by a Danish warship out of Greenlandic waters. The banner reads "Go beyond Oil". Greenpeace is highlighting the risks of deepwater oil drilling after the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.
This month sees the Arctic sea ice minimum, a litmus test for the health of the global climate, with indications suggesting the extent in 2011 could be the lowest level ever.
Arctic sea ice acts like the planet’s air conditioning system and, like miners who used canaries to warn of deadly gases, we have the extent and volume of this ice to warn us of climate change
Summer melting is now at the highest rate since records began nearly 40 years ago and scientists are already calling the loss of Arctic sea ice "stunning…yet another wake up call that climate change is here now."
The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise is currently in the far North, working with top climate scientists to ascertain the thickness of the shrinking ice around Svalbard. As the ice retreats, companies like Shell are lining up to exploit what lies beneath the shrinking floes and glaciers, but news today may give pause to this oil rush.
Cairn Energy has announced that the two wells it has drilled in the northern end of Baffin Bay have come up dry. Just like every other well the company has sunk in its multi-billion dollar project off Greenland so far.
It said that “no reservoir or hydrocarbon shows were encountered” in the 1,500m deep Gamma-1 well in the Eqqua Block, whilst “only minor hydrocarbon indications” were found in the Delta-1 well in the Napariaq Block.
Cairn was somehow upbeat on this latest expensive Arctic setback, saying "we remain very excited by what we have seen." Less gullible analysts in the City weren’t so easily fooled, calling it a further blow to the company and suggesting it gave "little encouragement." The news prompted shares to fall by around 6% this morning.
The truth is that Cairn is a bad bet. It has spent hundreds of millions drilling in the fragile Arctic environment and come up dry yet again. By its own admission an oil spill off Greenland would be all but impossible to clean.
This is why Greenpeace activists took peaceful direct action to stop Cairn drilling earlier in the summer. Later this week 20 protestors, including myself, will stand trial for climbing the Leiv Eiriksson rig off Greenland to demand Cairn’s oil spill response plan. Now that we’ve seen the plan, it’s clear why the company wanted to keep it under wraps. Cairn couldn’t deal with an Arctic spill and the coast of Greenland would be wrecked.
Personally, I feel this vindicates the action that my fellow defendants and I took. Whether the court agrees is another thing, but this is absolutely clear: Cairn should not be allowed to continue gambling with the unique Arctic environment.
Ask Greenland's Prime Minister to cancel Cairn's drilling programme and refuse future licences.
Video: Why Arctic sea ice melting matters