Greenpeace campaigners swim in front of oil ship to stop deepwater drilling

Press release - 26 September, 2010
West of Shetland, 26 September 2010 - Four Greenpeace environmental campaigners have swum out in front of a giant oil drilling ship, operated by the US energy giant Chevron, in open seas in an effort to halt its progress towards a deep water drilling site off Scotland.

The four left the Greenpeace ship Esperanza at 01.30 this afternoon by inflatable speedboat and dived into open seas 160 kilometers north of Shetland. The 228-metre long Stena Carron was forced to change direction and stopped. Greenpeace intends to send waves of swimmers and campaigners in kayaks out in front of the drill ship through the course of today and tomorrow to pressure the ship into turning back.

In the freezing and rough seas one of the swimmers, Ben Stewart, said: “That oil drill ship is the size of a sky-scraper on its side and as it cut through the water towards us I felt really scared, it’s like nothing I’ve ever done, but we are determined to stop it reaching its deepwater drilling site. It stopped for a few minutes but then changed course and now it’s heading for the oil field. We need to go beyond oil, we need our politicians to stop ships like this from threatening our pristine coastlines and the global climate. It shouldn’t be down to people bobbing in the water in front of ships to stop the insane rush for the last drops of oil in ever more dangerous and difficult to reach places.”

Yesterday a 100-hour occupation of the ship’s anchor chain ended when a court order forced Greenpeace to remove a purpose-built survival pod. If the campaigners had not lowered the pod they could have been forced to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds of supporters’ money to Chevron.

Just hours after the end of the pod occupation the ship left for a site in the Lagavulin oil field where it intends to drill an exploratory well in 500 metres of water. Since the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, environmental campaigners have been calling for a ban on new deep water drilling.

Greenpeace is threatening legal action against the Cameron government in an effort to stop the granting of new permits for deep water drilling. Last month Greenpeace lawyers wrote a so-called ‘letter before action’ to ministers – the precursor to seeking a judicial review of the decision to push ahead with new deep water drilling before the lessons from the BP disaster have been learned. Permits are granted by Lib Dem Energy Secretary Chris Huhne. 

The area west of Shetland is believed to hold 2bn-4bn barrels of ‘oil equivalent’ in oil and gas.  BP already operates three oil and gas fields in the area, in water no deeper than 1,800ft. In July 2010, BP confirmed that it plans to drill at much deeper depths at a potential field called Cardhu, a few miles south of the Chevron site. 


For more information contact:

Szabina Mozes, Greenpeace International Communication on +31 646 16 2023 or the Esperanza on +47 5140 7989

For video and stills contact Melissa Thompson, Greenpeace International Video Desk: + 31 621 296899; John Novis, Greenpeace International Picture Desk: +44 (0) 7801 615 889


Investigations into the Gulf of Mexico spill are still underway and the full extent of the tragedy is only now being discovered. Any clean-up operation off Shetland could be severely hampered by rough weather, making it more expensive and difficult than the operation in the US, which as of September 2010 had already cost $8bn (£5.2bn), with continuing costs of $90m per day. Colder waters would also mean that oil would disperse much more slowly, and therefore cause greater damage to wildlife.  Harsh weather conditions west of the Shetlands, in what is described by the Government as ‘a particularly challenging location’, have so far deterred major exploitation of oil, but recently energy firms have lobbied for tax breaks to make production more attractive. In January this year Alistair Darling - who was at the time the Chancellor of the Exchequer - announced changes that could be worth £12 billion over the next eight years.

The Eggar review, led by former Conservative Energy Minister and oilman Tim Eggar, is expected to recommend further incentives. The Lib Dem-Conservative coalition government is refusing to release the contents of the Review.  The process by which exploration and production licenses are issued to the industry is being ‘streamlined’. As a result, Chevron, BP and other oil majors have announced their intention to push further into the region west of the Shetlands, drilling wells in riskier deeper water and more remote locations than before.