Polar Bear Blockade!

Arctic oil company entrance blocked as activists demand to see spill plans

Feature story - May 26, 2011
Carin Energy is preparing to drill in the Arctic region, we'd like to see their oil spill response plan.

Protest at Cairn Headquarters

Greenpeace activists block the entrance to the headquarters of Scottish oil company Cairn with a life sized polar bear. Cairn is leading a dangerous new Arctic oil rush, deep water drilling for oil off the coast of Greenland. © Felix Clay / Greenpeace

This morning Greenpeace activists blocked the entrance of the Edinburgh headquarters of the Scottish oil company Cairn Energy -- demanding the company stop spearheading the dangerous new Arctic oil rush. Cairn Energy is facing a second summer of protest for their dangerous deep sea drilling in Arctic waters.

Company executives turned up to work to find the entrance blocked by a life-sized polar bear model. At the same time as this peaceful direct action in Scotland, a Greenpeace ship is monitoring the company’s 53,000 tonne oil rig – Leiv Eiriksson - as it makes its way along ‘Iceberg Alley’ to Baffin Bay, where Cairn is due to begin drilling four new exploratory oil wells. Danish navy commando units are guarding the oil rig as it travels to the drill site.

The Liev Eiriksson plans to drill depths of around 1500m – similar depths to the ill-fated BP well in the Gulf of Mexico. Yet, last year when Cairn Energy began drilling in the waters off Greenland, they had just had 14 vessels capable of dealing with a spill. By contrast, BP’s response in the Gulf of Mexico needed 6,500 boats and more than 50,000 people.

Earlier this week, Greenpeace released documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws showing British government officials briefing Ministers in private, that in the event of an oil spill in the Arctic, it would be ‘near impossible to make good damage caused’ and admitting, ‘emergency responses would be slower and harder than in the Gulf of Mexico.’

Where are the response plans?

Today the directors of the country’s three biggest green groups - WWF Scotland, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Greenpeace UK - wrote to Sir Bill Gammell, the CEO of Cairn Energy, demanding he stop hiding his company’s oil spill response plans. Cairn Energy has kept these documents, which are supposed to detail how they would respond in the event of a spill in the Arctic, completely secret.

Speaking from Edinburgh, Greenpeace oil campaigner, Rachel Murray, said:

“Cairn Energy are putting at risk the safety of one of the most fragile and important natural environments on Earth in a dangerous gamble to strike oil. Scientists are warning, and even British government officials are admitting, that a spill in the Arctic would be near impossible to clear up. It’s obvious the reason Cairn Energy’s bosses are keeping their oil spill response plans so secret is because these documents would expose how ill-prepared they are for a Gulf of Mexico type disaster.”

The drilling is to take place in Baffin Bay, one of the most pristine and fragile natural areas in the world, home to important and vulnerable wildlife including almost all of the world’s Narwhal population as well as blue whales, sea bird colonies, and polar bears.

Last month the prestigious scientific journal Nature carried an article by former US government scientist Jeffrey Short and another scientist called Susan Murray, which stated: “A large spill in the Arctic could not be contained or mitigated, and we should stop pretending otherwise. Sea ice can envelop oil and transport it considerable distances. A blow out during autumn would spill among growing ice floes, spreading contamination further than it could be tracked and concentrating oil in the ice holes through which marine mammals breathe.”

Take Action

You can take action now by telling Cairn Energy to publish their Arctic oil spill response plan now.