As social beings, we often celebrate our firsts: first step, first word, first day of college are typically shared and applauded with loved ones. But some firsts are more a cause for head-shakes than hi-fives, as is the case with the arrival of the very first oil extracted from Arctic waters.
On May 1st oil giant Gazprom’s tanker Mikhail Ulyanov neared a Rotterdam harbour and the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior III stood in its way to block it from docking and offloading its cargo – 70,000 tons of crude oil precariously drained from under the Arctic sea. This oil was headed to European markets and Greenpeace wanted to remind the world that Arctic oil should be off limits for good.
The action was an enormous and elaborate undertaking confronting the tanker from all sides. It included two Greenpeace ships (the Rainbow Warrior III and the Esperanza), inflatable boats, and eighty activists on site – some in ships and boats, some on shore, and even some paragliding overhead.
The activists in inflatable boats approached the 258 meter long tanker to raise a banner and paint the words “No Arctic Oil” in large letters on its hull. Ship crew and paragliders raised majestic banners with the same clear message. 44 activists were taken into police custody by Dutch authorities and released later that day.
Oil from the Arctic is low in quality, expensive, extremely risky to extract, and it is a fossil fuel the world must do without if we’re serious about tackling climate change and protecting the Arctic from irreversible devastation. The oil in the Mikhail Ulyanov hails from the same rig protested last year by 28 Greenpeace activists and two freelance journalists – the 'Arctic 30.'
Last year, Gazprom threatened the 'Arctic 30' with prison time and illegal charges. They spent months in prison and came out resolved to continue their fight to stop drilling in the Arctic. Seven of the 'Arctic 30' were involved in the May 1st protest.
Greenpeace was – and still is – the only environmental group at the frontlines of Arctic protection, confronting destructive oil companies wherever they strike.
And while Gazprom is the first, it is certainly not the only oil company seeking to profit off the Arctic's oil reserves.
In Canada’s Beaufort Sea, record breaking oil spillers BP and Exxon both have rights for exploratory drilling. And, as the current chair of the Arctic Council, the Harper government is not stemming the Arctic oil rush. It is instead welcoming it.
As the much cited report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states: the melting Arctic is escalating the pace of catastrophic climate change. The arrival of the Arctic’s first offshore oil to European markets is no occasion for corking champagne. Neither is the fact that Canada is on the same destructive path. These are instead reminders that our work is needed now more than ever.
Add your voice to protect the Arctic from oil drilling at www.savethearctic.org