Amsterdam, 20 December 2013 - Russian oil giant Gazprom today announced it has produced the first commercial quantities of oil from its controversial Arctic drilling platform Prirazlomnaya in the remote waters of the Pechora Sea. In response, Greenpeace suggested that the ‘clock is ticking’ on a major environmental accident in the Arctic region.
The Prirazlomnaya platform was the focus of a high profile Greenpeace protest in September which led to the arrest and imprisonment of 28 activists and two freelance journalists. The ‘Arctic 30’ were included in an amnesty passed by the Duma (Russian parliament) on Wednesday.
A Gazprom statement saying the company has started oil production at Prirazlomnaya added that it is the first project in the history of Russian resource development of the Arctic shelf.
Responding to the news Faiza Oulahsen from the Netherlands, one of the Arctic 30, said:
“This is a dark day for the Arctic. Gazprom is the first company on Earth to pump oil from beneath icy Arctic waters and yet its safety record on land is appalling. It is impossible to trust them to drill safely in one of the most fragile and beautiful regions on Earth. This is why I have spent the last two months of my life in jail, but I am just one of millions who oppose this reckless oil rush. We must stop this trickle of Arctic oil before it becomes a flood.”
"The timing of this announcement is intriguing, to say the least. When Gazprom called the authorities and instructed them to arrest us, they never bargained for the global outrage they sparked. Now we are going home and Gazprom is licking its wounds. Announcing they have started producing oil does not dissuade us, it makes us more determined than ever to grow this global movement to save the Arctic. We’ve already discovered more oil than we’ll ever need if we’re going to avoid dangerous climate change. Looking for more of the stuff in the beautiful fragile Arctic is an act of extreme folly."
The offshore Arctic is the most inhospitable operating environment imaginable. Freezing temperatures, thick ice, months of perpetual twilight, giant storms and hurricane-force winds pose a unique technical risk to any oil company. There is no proven way of cleaning oil spilled in ice and even a small accident would have devastating consequences on the Arctic’s fragile and little-understood environment.
To realise its goal of opening up more of the Arctic to oil exploration, which Russia aims to turn into its “resource base of the 21st century” (1), Gazprom has signed an exploration deal with Shell (2) that will provide it with new capital and much-needed expertise in offshore drilling, even though Shell’s own attempts to drill in the Alaskan Arctic were hit by repeated accidents and embarrassing safety blunders (3). Yet this deal represents a huge financial and reputational risk for Shell and its investors. A recent report written by Greenpeace, Share Action and Platform looked at the risks posed by Shell’s deal with Gazprom. It concluded that the partnership may expose Shell and its investors to risks associated with the Russian firm’s poor record on safety, environment and transparency (4).
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(2) Shell and Gazprom signed a ‘protocol on strategic global cooperation’ in November 2010 http://www.shell.com/global/aboutshell/media/news-and-media-releases/2010/gazprom-shell-cooperation-30112010.html
(4) Out in the Cold: Investor risk in Shell’s Arctic exploration http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/sites/files/gpuk/Arctic_investor_v9.1_A4.pdf