Activists Occupy Oil Rig Bound for Arctic Drilling

Feature story - May 9, 2011
Last month activists took bold action to stop the oil rig Leiv Eiriksson from drilling in the Arctic waters. But sadly the Greenland government has now approved Cairn Energy’s application to drill four offshore oil wells this year.

The Leiv Eiriksson is an oil rig operated by Cairn Energy and is the only rig in the world currently set to begin new deep sea drilling in the Arctic – making it a clear and present danger to the pristine arctic environment. 

So in the early hours of the morning, April 21, activists began their mission to intercept the oil rig as it attempted to leave Besiktas port near Istanbul and head to the Arctic to start exploratory drilling. Eleven activists scaled the 53,000 tonne rig to impede its progress, prepared for a sustained occupation, with sufficient supplies to last for days.

Greenpeace activists take direct action to protect the pristine Arctic environment from oil exploration by stopping the drilling rig Leiv Eiriksson from departing Turkish waters for Baffin Bay, Greenland. The rig is due to begin deep water oil exploration for wildcat oil company Cairn Energy, which is leading the new Arctic oil rush. The activists board the oil rig and display a banner reading "Choose clean energy now". © Markel Redondo / Greenpeace

Extreme arctic weather conditions mean that Cairn has a very short window to drill four new exploratory wells at staggering depths of around 1500m – these are similar depths to the ill-fated BP Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico. Freezing temperatures, severe weather and a highly remote location pose unprecedented challenges to any oil spill response in the Arctic and mean a spill would be impossible to contain and clean up.

Greenland Approves Drilling Licences

Greenland’s government has just granted licences to Cairn Energy’s to drill four offshore oil wells in the Disko-Nuussuaq and Nuuk areas.

“By approving these permits, Greenland’s government has allowed Cairn Energy to drill for oil further north, at greater depths and deeper into the harsh winter months than ever before. Despite the great risks that it is taking with this pristine environment, Cairn Energy is refusing to make public its oil spill emergency plan and has given no indication of having taken any extra precautions against the occurrence of an incident like last year BP’s Gulf of Mexico disaster”.

“The government of Greenland has granted approval of these controversial drilling plans just two days before the Arctic Council Ministers meet in Greenland. The Arctic is undergoing dramatic changes due to climate change, pollution and ocean acidification, but the Arctic Council is doing almost nothing to protect this fragile region. Simply talking won’t save the Arctic - instead we need to see measures taken to defend the region from oil drilling, destructive fishing and increased commercial shipping.”

Greenpeace is investigating options to challenge the Greenland’s procedure for granting a license to Cairn , which did not result in a transparent and environmentally sound decision.

Our oil addiction is seeing us dangerously lurch from one oil crisis to the next. It was only a year ago that BP’s disaster unfolded in the Gulf of Mexico. Since then, we’ve seen oil price hikes damage the global economic recovery, and drive up the costs of food and transport.

Now, as we witness the Arctic sea ice retreating at record rates, the oil industry wants to start risky deep sea drilling in one of the worlds most fragile and important ecosystems - despite the terrible risks of a spill there.

We can change course and protect the Arctic but only if we can force polluting corporations and the politicians who back them to embrace measures that can curb our dependence on oil.

The key is to take the trillions set to be invested in dirty oil and to invest it instead in an Energy [R]evolution - ramping up the efficiency of vehicles, and rolling out new clean technologies. That way we can start ending our addiction to oil and protect the Arctic, defend the climate, and create new clean energy jobs and industries.