Greenland, June 4 2011 – Eighteen Greenpeace activists have scaled a controversial Arctic oil rig 180km off the Greenland coast. They braved freezing seas to climb the huge legs of the rig then formed an orderly delegation to make its way to the drill manager’s cabin to demand a copy of the rig’s Oil Spill Response Plan.
The operators of the rig, Edinburgh-based Cairn Energy, have refused to publish the plan, going against all industry norms. Greenpeace has made repeated requests for the document, including making a visit last month to the company’s headquarters to ask that it be made public.
At 5am this morning five inflatable speedboats launched from the Greenpeace ship Esperanza and carried the delegation to the Leiv Eiriksson – bypassing a Danish navy warship which has been circling the rig for a week. The team then climbed ladders to the accommodation deck they radioed the Esperanza to say they were now being taken to meet the drill manager.
To ensure the delegation reached the rig the Esperanza moved to the edge of a 500m exclusion zone imposed by the Danish navy. Before boarding the rig Greenpeace International oil campaigner Ben Ayliffe - who is leading the delegation - said:
“Cairn Energy is hiding its oil spill response plan so we’re going to the one place where there must be a copy of it. It’s obvious why Cairn won’t tell the world how it would clean up a BP-style oil spill here in the Arctic, and that’s because it can’t be done. Experts say the freezing temperatures and remote location mean a deep water blow-out in this stunning pristine environment would be an irreversible disaster. If they published the plan, the dangers of investing in such a high risk venture would be laid bare. We have to draw a line in the ice and stop the Arctic oil rush.”
Cairn claims the Greenland authorities won’t allow it to publish the spill plan, but Greenpeace has legal advice making it clear that Cairn could easily publish the plan if it wanted to, as is standard industry practice.
Two activists who prevented oil drilling for four days by living in an Arctic survival pod suspended from the underside of the Leiv Eiriksson were removed by police climbers on Wednesday night. Shortly before being arrested they called the mobile telephones of two Cairn executives to demand that the spill plan be published. In addition, 30,000 Greenpeace supporters have emailed Cairn Energy calling for the response plan to be published.
Cairn lawyers have now issued a legal summons against Greenpeace claiming that the pod protest stopped the rig operating and saying that every day the rig is prevented from drilling costs the company up to US$4 million. The summons, if granted, would mean Greenpeace would have to pay 2 million Euros in fines for every subsequent breach and every day the campaigners stop the Leiv Eiriksson operating. The case will be heard in a Dutch court on Monday.
The Leiv Eiriksson is one of just two drilling vessels operating off the coast of Greenland. The world's oil giants are watching Cairn’s rig with great interest. If it strikes oil this summer Exxon, Chevron and the other big oil companies (which have already bought up Greenland licenses) will begin drilling in the area and the Arctic oil rush will be on.
Private UK government documents revealed last month show that experts believe an Arctic spill would be ‘near impossible’ to clean up.
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Private UK government documents revealed last month show that experts believe an Arctic spill would be ‘near impossible’ to clean up:
Shares in Cairn fell sharply on Tuesday when London traders returned after the long weekend – with media reports attributing the price drop to the presence of the Greenpeace pod – and continued to fall as the week went on:
Even without an accident Cairn admits its drilling operation will result in at least 9,000 tonnes of chemicals being discharged directly into the waters of the Davis Strait – including 180 tonnes of red-listed chemicals (more than all annual oil drilling operations in Norway and Denmark combined). The company admits that it would take decades before significant profits from oil exploration flow to Greenland, while Cairn’s operations pose a grave threat to Greenland’s fisheries, which represent 88% of the island’s export economy.
The area where Cairn intends to drill is known as ‘Iceberg Alley'. The company intends to tow icebergs out of the rig's path or use water cannons to divert them to avoid a collision as the rig drills for oil. If the icebergs are too large the company has admitted it will need to move the rig itself. Last year a 260km2 ice island broke off the Petermann glacier north of Iceberg Alley. The region is famous for its narwhal population.