Greenpeace activists board oil platform in Russian Arctic

Feature story - August 24, 2012
Early this morning a team of Greenpeace activists including Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo and Canadian activist Terry Christenson boarded energy giant Gazprom’s Arctic oil platform Prirazlomnaya off the North-eastern coast of Russia in the Pechora Sea.

Action at Gazprom's Arctic Oil Platform © Denis Sinyakov / Greenpeace



This evening, 15 hours after boarding Gazprom's Arctic oil platform in the Pechora Sea, six Greenpeace International activists including Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo voluntarily left the platform. In freezing temperatures, the climbers were constantly hosed with water by Gazprom workers who appeared more intent on endangering the safety of peaceful activists than operating the platform above.

To avoid unnecessary risk in these freezing Arctic conditions the activists have decided to come down. The same cannot be said of Gazprom, which appears determined to continue its reckless drilling programme in one of the most fragile places on earth. The bravery of all of these climbers interrupted a major Arctic oil operation and by doing so brought the world's attention to this era defining issue. This occupation was just one part of a new movement to save the Arctic that will not be intimidated by water cannons or other forms of corporate brutality.

At 4 a.m. local time, the team of international activists set off in three inflatable speedboats from the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise and scaled the oil platform via mooring lines. Six climbers have taken up positions on the structure to demand that Gazprom abandon its plans to drill for oil in the Arctic. They have interrupted the platform's operations. The activists have enough supplies to last them for several days.

“I am doing this for my grandchildren and the grandchildren of the planet. I think it is very arrogant of these engineers to design this rig for the North Atlantic. I think it is a catastrophe waiting to happen,” said Canadian activist Terry Christenson from Parry Sound, Ontario, who started climbing almost 20 years ago and has been a Greenpeace activist for four years now.

Speaking from the platform, Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo said: “My fellow activists and I climbed this rusting oil platform with a mandate from over a million people who have joined a movement to protect the Arctic, and we are here on their behalf. We are also standing shoulder to shoulder with the Russian Indigenous Peoples, who just last week signed a joint statement declaring their opposition to offshore oil drilling in this area, which is near their traditional territory.”

This is the second time Naidoo has engaged in direct action to prevent Arctic oil drilling. The South African-born human rights activist boarded a drilling rig operated by the British company Cairn Energy off Greenland in June 2011. Cairn has since ceased exploration there.

“As with Shell’s reckless plans to drill in Alaska, it’s not a question of if an Arctic oil spill will happen, but when. The only way to stop a catastrophic oil spill occurring in this unique region is to permanently ban all drilling now”, said Naidoo. “This threat affects all of us. In my home country of South Africa we are now facing a far more dangerous climate because fossil fuel companies like Gazprom and Shell are pumping money into politics and blocking clean alternatives. For the sake of the people and wildlife depending on this region, we’re here to draw a line in the ice and say ‘you come no further’.”

Russian energy giant Gazprom looks set to begin full commercial drilling operations by early next year, becoming the first ever company to start commercial oil production in the offshore Arctic. Last week Greenpeace discovered that the Gazprom platform is operating without an official oil spill response plan. Gazprom’s response plan was approved in July 2007 for a period of exactly five years, but the Russian Ministry of Emergency admitted to Greenpeace in a letter that a new spill plan has been neither submitted nor approved.

The Arctic is one of the most extreme and hostile environments to drill for oil on the planet. The Gazprom drill site is covered by thick sea ice for nearly two-thirds of the year, whilst temperatures as low as -50˚C are not uncommon. The Pechora Sea is often battered by fierce storms and during the long northern winter is plunged into months of almost total darkness. Despite such extreme risks, Gazprom has only released a summary of its oil spill response plans to the public. Yet even this document shows that the company would be completely unprepared to deal with an accident in the Far North, and would rely on substandard clean-up methods — such as shovels and buckets — that simply do not work in icy conditions.

Last week, Greenpeace Russia and WWF Russia released an independent report commissioned from experts at the Russian center Informatica Riska, who developed a computerized risk model of oil spill scenarios on the platform Prirazlomnaya, the same platform the activists are now occupying.

The experts reviewed tens of thousands of possible scenarios and concluded that the area of possible contamination covers over 140,000 square kilometers of open water, as well as over 3,000 kilometers of coastline.

Also last week, Greenpeace International, along with the Save the Pechora Committee and Iz’vatas, hosted a conference in Usinsk, Russia, to explore the impacts of Arctic oil drilling on Indigenous communities. After hearing from speakers from Greenland to the Niger Delta, the group of 30 representatives wrote and signed on to a joint statement opposing offshore Arctic oil drilling, and demanding the government consult with them for rights to drill on their traditional land.