Greenpeace Confronts Dangerous Deepwater Oil Drilling

Greenpeace Ship Esperanza arrives in the Arctic demanding British Company Stop Operations

Press release - 23 August, 2010
Sigguk Block, Baffin Bay, 23 August 2010 - The Greenpeace ship Esperanza has arrived in the icy waters of the Arctic to confront a British company’s dangerous deepwater oil drilling operation in one of the most fragile environments on earth.

Greenpeace has singled out Cairn Energy, which is currently drilling two wells off the West coast of Greenland in an area known as ‘iceberg alley’. If Cairn is successful the Arctic could be flooded with oil companies, all trying to operate in hazardous polar conditions. The region is also famous for its populations of blue whales, polar bears, seals and migratory birds.

The company has plans to drill a further two wells before the ‘summer window’ closes at the end of October (1). Campaigners onboard the Greenpeace ship Esperanza are calling on Cairn to abandon the risky drilling project immediately.

A Danish Thetis-class warship has been sent to drilling site and has warned the Captain of the Esperanza that he faces arrest if the 500m security zone surrounding each drilling rig is breached. The Esperanza is anchored in ‘iceberg alley’ between the Stena Don rig and Stena Forth drill ship, which are 20 miles apart. Danish Special forces were earlier deployed on the Faeroe Islands as the Greenpeace ship passed. It is unclear whether the commando team was sent on to Disko Island.

The Greenland government is refusing to release Cairn’s oil spill response plan for public scrutiny (2), raising serious questions over the company’s ability to deal with a major accident.

Greenpeace campaigner Leila Deen, who is currently on board the Esperanza, said:

“To be here and see a huge drilling rig in this beautiful and fragile environment is deeply shocking. The tragic oil disasters in the Gulf and in China this year clearly illustrate the need to go beyond oil.  This operation is too risky and companies like Cairn need to leave the Arctic alone and instead work quickly to develop safe and clean alternatives that will actually help us get off fossil fuels for good.

“Climate change is already having an impact on millions of people around the world but oil companies are completely ignoring the new reality we face. That’s why we’ve set out this morning to deliver a message to them in person – go home now.”

Greenpeace today also released a briefing which highlights some of the reasons why Arctic drilling is so dangerous. Points include:

* The drilling season is short, and is ended by the arrival of the Arctic winter and a thickening of sea ice which makes drilling of primary or relief wells impossible.(3)

* A blowout in a scenario where a relief well cannot be completed in the same drilling season could lead to oil gushing unchecked for two years (4), with spilt oil becoming trapped under sheets of thick ice.

* The environmental consequences of a spill in the Arctic environment would be far more serious than in warmer seas such as the Gulf of Mexico.(5) Serious impacts of the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska are still being felt over 20 years later.(6)

* Baffin Bay [where the rig is drilling] is home to 80 to 90% of the world’s Narwhals. The region is also home to blue whales, polar bears, seals, sharks, cormorants, kittiwakes and numerous other migratory birds.(7)

This briefing, along with another explaining who Cairn Energy is, as well as video footage of iceberg alley, is available at

Tomorrow Cairn energy will announce its half yearly results at its headquarters in Edinburgh. It is expected to reveal whether the two wells it is currently drilling in Baffin Bay have been successful, as well as outlining plans to drill two further wells in the same area.

Globally Greenpeace is calling for:

* A ban on new offshore drilling and exploration for other high risk unconventional oil sources, including the arctic and Canadian tar sands

* Phase out of remaining oil drilling

* Government must require all oil companies to be fully insured for all liabilities

* An end to fossil fuel subsidies and an increase in support for clean energy

* Strong laws and policies that limit global warming pollution and stimulate a clean Energy [R]evolution.

Contacts for more information including photos, video and interviews from the scene:

Beth Herzfeld, Greenpeace International, tel: +44 (0)7717 802 891

Photos and video available directly:

Emma Stoner, Greenpeace International picture desk, +44 207 865 8230

Maarten van Rouveroy van Nieuwaal, Greenpeace International video desk +31 646197322

(1) Cairn media backgrounder, accessed at

(2) Freedom of Information request denied August 2010. Contact Greenpeace for full details.

(3) WWF, Offshore Exploration in the Arctic

(4) A. Mayeda 2010. Oil-spill relief well off Canada’s Arctic coast would take three years: regulators. Postmedia News

(5) Brandvik, PJ, Sørheim, KR, Singsaas, I, and Reed, M (2006). Short State-of-the-Art Report on Oil Spills in Ice-Infested Waters: Oil Behaviour and Response Options. SINTEF. 19 May.

(6) Li H.L. & Boufadel M.C. 2010. Long-term persistence of oil from the Exxon Valdez spill in two-layer beaches. Nat. Geosci., 3, 96-99

(7) Potential environmental impacts of oil spills in Greenland, National Environmental Research Institute, Ministry of the Environment, Denmark. 2002.