Greenpeace ship confronts oil exploration vessel in the Russian Arctic

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Feature story - 13 August, 2013
The Greenpeace icebreaker Arctic Sunrise is confronting a seismic vessel in the Barents Sea north of Russia, protesting the Russian oil giant Rosneft as it prepares to drill for oil in the fragile Arctic.

 

Early this morning, as the Rosneft-contracted vessel Akademic Lazarev began firing underwater sound cannons up to 250 decibels in the Fedynskiy license block, Greenpeace approached the vessel, demanding that it stop operations immediately. Rosneft has recently signed joint deals to drill in the Arctic with international oil companies including ExxonMobil, BP and Statoil.

Upon approach Greenpeace campaigners communicated to the captain by radio, demanding that the vessel cease its preparations. They questioned the vessel’s crew about the details of its operations, including the environmental impacts and risks to wildlife, and explained that seismic operations are laying the groundwork for potentially devastating oil projects. Among other animals the Barents Sea is home to narwhals, bowhead whales, walruses, and polar bears.

“The vessel confirmed via radio that it is operating on behalf on Rosneft, and denied that it was doing any harm to wildlife, but their 200-decibel air cannons tell a different story. Seismic testing can damage the hearing of whales and other wildlife, and even lead to fatalities,” said Christy Ferguson, Greenpeace Arctic campaigner, from the bridge of the Arctic Sunrise. “But the ship's captain refused to talk about this and cut-off the conversation quickly."

Seismic testing uses sound waves generated by air cannons to create detailed maps of undersea areas, to determine locations for oil drilling. This kind of activity has significant impacts on whales and other wildlife in the area. Underwater sound level over 180-190 decibels is dangerous for marine mammals: if they are within 450-500 metres of the air cannons (190 dB) they will lose their hearing permanently. If they get within 150 metres where the sound reaches 245 decibels, the animals will die. Over the coming days, Greenpeace will continue to protest this vessel at sea.

State-owned Rosneft is the world’s largest oil company. It holds over a million square kilometers of license blocks on the Arctic shelf, and plans to drill the first exploratory well as soon as 2014 at Vostochno-Prinovozemelsky-1 block located next to the Russian Arctic National Park.

“Rosneft already spills hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil on land every year — more than any other company in the world,” said Ferguson. “Now western oil companies are partnering with Rosneft on the Arctic shelf to take advantage of loose regulations and lax safety standards, and to avoid accountability for the environmental damage they cause.”

The Arctic Sunrise is in the Russian Arctic to expose and confront Russian oil companies like Rosneft and their Western partners like Exxon Mobil, Statoil and BP, who are preparing to drill in the region. Greenpeace is campaigning for a ban on offshore drilling in the Arctic, and for the uninhabited area around the North Pole to be declared a global sanctuary. Over the coming weeks, Greenpeace and millions of supporters will be challenging Rosneft and other companies at sea, on land, and online.

Right now the Arctic is under attack from oil companies like never before. As the sea ice melts, oil companies are planning for the first time to go beyond exploration and actually start producing oil from ice-filled waters. Drilling for oil in the harsh and unpredictable Arctic environment is extremely risky. Companies have no reliable way of preventing or stopping an oil spill, or of cleaning one up after the fact.

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