Oil company’s lawyers try to shut down Greenpeace arctic campaign

Press release - 6 June, 2011
Threat of multi-million euro fines as campaigners launch further bid for missing spill plan

Greenland, 6 June 2011.– Campaigners trying to stop deep water oil drilling in the Arctic have stepped up their campaign by lodging an official complaint with the Greenlandic parliament calling for the release of an oil spill response plan which is being kept secret by the authorities in Greenland.

The move comes as the company behind the drilling, Cairn Energy, takes Greenpeace to court in the Netherlands this afternoon. Cairn is seeking an injunction which, if granted, could see the environment group fined 2m euros for every day any future protest stops drilling on the company’s Arctic rigs. Last week Greenpeace occupied Cairn’s 53,000 tonne Leiv Eiriksson rig for a total of five days.

Greenpeace this morning submitted an official complaint to the ombudsman of the Inartsisartut (the Greenland parliament). The complaint details how Greenpeace has applied for 17 different documents but been given access to only two. Greenland’s Bureau of Mineral and Petroleum refuses to disclose a series of other documents – including Cairn’s oil spill response plan; papers detailing how Cairn will pay for a clean up operation if a spill occurs; and a series of technical reports that would shed light on the risky nature of Arctic oil drilling.

Against all industry norms Cairn is refusing to publish the document detailing how it would deal with a BP-style disaster in the Arctic. Greenpeace has repeatedly requested that a copy the plan be placed in the public domain so it can be independently verified. On Saturday, 18 of the group’s activists scaled the Leiv Eiriksson, 180km off the Greenland coast, to demand a copy of the plan. When they were refused they occupied the rig for eight hours, stopping it drilling.

Ben Stewart is an oil campaigner on board the Greenpeace ship Esperanza, positioned near the Leiv Eiriksson, just outside a 500m exclusion zone imposed by a Danish navy warship. He said:

“That Cairn’s lawyers are threatening us with millions of euros in fines shows just how desperate they are to keep the oil spill response plan secret. Cairn can hire all the expensive lawyers it likes, we won’t stop demanding what the public has a right to see. When the plan is finally published we’ll see in black and white what the experts have been saying for months, that Cairn wouldn’t be able to clean up an Arctic oil spill. That should worry Cairn’s investors as much as those of us who want to see this beautiful fragile environment protected.”

He continued:

“Our reaction to the melting of the Arctic ice cap will say much about the kind of future we want. We need to see the retreating ice as a warning that it is time to go beyond oil and instead invest in clean technologies.   The time has come to draw a line in the ice and kick the oil companies out of the Arctic and in so doing mark the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel age.” ENDS

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An English translation of the ombudsman complaint will be available shortly at www.greenpeace.org/arctic in the meantime to the original Danish version can be found at http://www.greenpeace.org/denmark/Global/denmark/Arktis/dokumenter/Klage%20til%20Gr%c3%b8nlands%20ombudsmand.pdf

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.

On Saturday drilling was halted for at least 10 hours when the 18 activists scaled the rig. They are now being held in jail in the Greenland capital of Nuuk.

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:


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.