Greenpeace activists end arctic oil rig occupation in freezing gale

Press release - 2 September, 2010
Baffin Bay, Greenland, Thursday - After over 40 hours hanging below the Stena Don oil rig, forcing the operators Cairn Energy to halt drilling operations, harsh arctic weather conditions have forced four Greenpeace climbers to end their occupation by climbing up onto the gantry of the rig, where they were promptly arrested.

Before ending the protest one of the climbers, Sim McKenna from the United States, said via satellite phone:

“We stopped this rig drilling for oil for two days, but in the end the Arctic weather beat us. Last night was freezing and now the sea below us is churning and the wind is roaring. It’s time to come down, but we’re proud we slowed the mad rush for Arctic oil, if only for a couple of days.”

“This beautiful fragile arctic environment would be decimated by an oil spill. The melting Arctic ice is a grim reminder that we need to stop burning oil and invest instead in clean energy solutions.”

“I’m not sure what will happen to us now, but as soon as we can we’ll be back to call for the world to finally go beyond oil. It is time for people everywhere to take a stand, to call on their governments to fight climate change, ban dangerous deep sea drilling and invest in clean energy solutions that will protect the world’s fragile environments from cowboy oil companies like Cairn Energy.”

Sim McKenna joined the Greenpeace ship Esperanza, which sailed from London to the Arctic vowing to challenge the oil industry’s determination to drill for the last drops of oil.

For nine days the Esperanza was shadowed by a Danish Thetis-class 120m warship, commandos in speed boats and a flotilla of police boats. The rig was forced to stop drilling because any breach of the 500m security zone around it results in a routine shutdown. The other rig operated by Cairn Energy 150km away – the Stena Forth – also stopped drilling due to the Greenpeace protest.

Cairn Energy last week claimed the Forth had struck gas and was optimistic it would strike oil. By stopping it drilling for two days, Greenpeace hopes that Cairn Energy will now struggle to meet a tight deadline to complete the exploration before winter ice conditions force it to abandon the search for oil off Greenland until next year.

The crew of the Esperanza includes Waldemar Wichmann, the Captain from Argentina; Annkatrin Schneider, deck hand from Germany; Ben Stewart and Leila Deen from the UK; Jon Burgwald from Denmark; Victor Rask from Sweden; Mateusz Emeschajmer from Poland; Timo Puohiniemi from Finland; Danielle McCarthy, Second Mate from Australia; Mannas, Chief Engineer from Holland; and Sim McKenna from the USA.

ENDS

For more information contact Szabina Mozes, Greenpeace International Communication on +31 646 16 2023

For video and stills contact Melissa Thompson, Greenpeace International Video Desk: + 31 621 296899; John Novis, Greenpeace International Picture Desk: +44 7798 678281

To speak to a campaigner off the coast of Greenland contact the Esperanza on +8816 7770 1411 or +8816 7770 1412 or +8816 7770 1413.

Notes:

• The U.S. government calculates that the chance of a major spill occurring over the lifetime of a single block of leases in its own Arctic waters is greater than 20% - while those odds increase with every extra license granted. If the Cairn operation strikes oil the number of wells sunk off Greenland would increase dramatically. The well being drilled by Cairn is at a depth of 300-500 metres, while the moratorium introduced by President Barack Obama after the Deepwater Horizon disaster applies to wells deeper than 152 metres. Cairn has refused to publish a comprehensive plan for how it would deal with a spill from the platform, and has just 14 vessels capable of reacting to a spill (BP’s response in the Gulf of Mexico required more than 3000 vessels).

• Drilling west of Greenland is limited to a ‘summer window’ between July and end September. After this date, sea-ice becomes too thick to allow vessels to operate and relief wells cannot be drilled effectively. The area which contains the occupied rig is known locally as ‘iceberg alley’. Cairn is having to tow icebergs out of the rig’s path or use water cannons to divert them. If the icebergs are too large the company has pledged to move the rig itself to avoid a collision. Last month a 260km2 ice island broke off the Petermann glacier north of Disko island and will eventually make its way south through Nares Strait into Baffin Bay and the Labrador Current.

• Cairn is run by Sir Bill Gammell, a childhood friend of both Tony Blair and George W Bush. When Bush first met Blair his opening words were: “I hear you know my friend Bill Gammell.” Last week Gammell sold Cairn’s Indian operation for $9.2bn to fund the Greenland project, describing the Arctic as his “Plan A, B and C.”

• Baffin Bay 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.

• Cairn’s Greenland project is representative of a new approach to modern oil exploration, where self-styled ‘wildcat’ companies take on huge financial and technical risks in the hope of hitting a previously undiscovered reservoir of oil. The company’s complete lack of in-house infrastructure and failure to provide a comprehensive spill response plan raises serious questions about Cairn’s ability to deal with an accident in one of the most hostile environments on earth.

• According to Gammell, the company seeks ‘big acreage’ to give it a wide area for exploration, in contrast to the smaller parcels that are routinely found in the North Sea for example. The dangers of this approach become clear in the event of a spill, where the operation’s remote location means there is little infrastructure already in place to begin any clean up operation.

• Greenpeace is campaigning to protect fragile ecosystems like the Arctic and is seeking an immediate moratorium on all oil development in the vulnerable Arctic Ocean.