Amsterdam, 2 March 2012 - A federal judge in Alaska has rejected the bulk of a lawsuit brought by Shell Oil Company against Greenpeace USA which would have been one of the broadest and most restrictive in US legal history, according to the environmental group.
Following a four-day occupation last week by Greenpeace New Zealand activists - including actor Lucy Lawless - of the Shell-contracted Noble Discoverer drillship in New Zealand, Shell has launched a pre-emptive legal strike that intends to silence opposition against the company's controversial plans to drill in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off the coast of Alaska.
Shell's original proposed Temporary Restraining Order, filed on February 24 with an Alaskan court, could have been applied to any of Greenpeace USA's 500,000 email subscribers who chose to take action with the organization at gas stations, regional offices or other venues around the country.
"Shell is trying to intimidate and stifle any voices who want to speak out against its reckless plans to drill in the ice-choked waters off Alaska," said Ben Ayliffe, Greenpeace International Senior Polar Campaigner. "This is hardly surprising, given the company's drilling fleet is made up of rusting hulks with more holes than Swiss cheese and a spill response plan that looks like it's been pulled straight out of the Fantasy section in a bookshop. But Greenpeace and a multitude of supporters will not be silenced and will fight this one right through the courts."
The judge rejected Shell's request as too broad but instead issued a limited order, which applies to the oil company's two drilling vessels, the Kulluk platform and the Noble Discoverer drilling ship. In her decision, Judge Gleason wrote: "Shell has failed to demonstrate that a temporary restraining order of such breadth is necessary or warranted at this time."
Reacting to the news, Greenpeace USA Deputy Campaign Director Dan Howells said:
"The judge rejected most of Shell's heavy-handed lawsuit, but too much still remains. This was one of the broadest attacks on peaceful protest we've seen in years, and we're still left with a restraining order against an entirely peaceful organization that was not even involved in the actions at the core of Shell's complaint. The real threat to America comes not from peaceful and passionate protesters but from a reckless oil company whose plans to drill in Alaska's icy waters risk polluting our coastlines, devastating local communities and wrecking our climate."
In support of its complaint, Shell referred to an activity almost 10,000 kilometres from Alaska in which activists from Greenpeace New Zealand joined the actor Lucy Lawless to stop a Shell drillship from leaving for the Arctic
"Nearly 200,000 people around the world have joined with Greenpeace to protect the High North and support of our actions, urging Shell to cancel plans to drill in the Arctic this summer," said Ayliffe. "This is about more than Greenpeace. Shell is also trying to gag the hundreds of thousands of global citizens who agree with us. This is an infringement on our right to free speech and to peaceful public protest."
Note: this proposed order is separate to an additional lawsuit, which attempts to preempt a legal review of Shell's oil spill response plan and involves other environmental groups.
The Temporary Restraining Order will last for 14 days unless further extended by the court. A hearing on Shell's Motion for a Preliminary Injunction (a more permanent measure) is scheduled for 14 March 2012 at 9:00 a.m. in Alaska.
Greenpeace USA Press Desk Hotline: +1 202 640 3471
Greenpeace International Press Desk Hotline: +31 20 718 2470
Ben Ayliffe, Greenpeace International Senior Polar Campaigner, +44 7815 708683