Greenpeace activists face Greenland court for stopping Arctic oil rig

Press release - 16 September, 2011
Copenhagen, 16th September 2011 - 20 Greenpeace activists who took peaceful direct action to protect the Arctic will today stand trial before a Greenland Court, charged with illegally breaching a security zone and trespass after they scaled one of the world’s biggest oil rigs [1].

Earlier this summer, Greenpeace volunteers from nine countries [2] boarded the 53,000 tonne Leiv Eiriksson rig in the freezing waters off Greenland demanding that UK company Cairn Energy publish its plan for dealing with an oil spill in the Arctic. Though the activists were arrested, their actions sparked worldwide attention. After mounting pressure, including over 100,000 people signing a petition demanding that the document be released, the Greenland government forced Cairn to publish the plan in August.

“It’s no wonder Cairn tried so hard to keep the oil spill plan secret, when it proves that dealing with any sort of accident in the Arctic would be impossible”, said Greenpeace Senior Polar Campaigner Ben Ayliffe. “All of the information in Cairn’s oil spill plan vindicates our taking peaceful direct action of going on board the rig to find the plan.”

Cairn’s plan admits that any clean up operation would have to stop completely during the long Arctic winter, while traditional recovery techniques using booms and skimmers would not be effective in freezing waters. Cairn note that clean-up techniques can be so damaging that some oiled beaches would be best left to “recover naturally,” adding that it would try to cut out chunks of oiled ice to melt them in heated warehouses. The plan also shows that a spill would cause devastating problems for Arctic wildlife like narwhals and breeding colonies of puffins and razorbills.

Veteran marine biologist, Professor Richard Steiner, an international expert on oil spills who examined the plan for Greenpeace, warned that Cairn “dramatically overstates the potential effectiveness of any spill response” and “fails to adequately address the enormity of logistic requirements for dealing with a spill off Greenland.” [3]

“Cairn Energy should not be allowed to gamble with the unique Greenlandic environment. Rather than seeing the melting of the Arctic [4] as a spur to action to tackle climate change, Cairn sees it as a business opportunity [5], even though the region would only provide three years worth of the world’s oil supply”, said Ayliffe.

“We've got to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels – and to do that we must extract oil from the car industry by making our vehicles much more efficient.”

Greenpeace is an independent global campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace.


Birgitte Lesanner, Greenpeace Nordic Communications, +45 23951214

Ben Ayliffe, Senior Polar Campaigner, Greenpeace International, +44 7815 708 683

Greenpeace International 24-hour press desk: +31 20 718 2470 or

Notes to Editors:

[1] The case is taking place in the Greenland capital Nuuk, though Greenpeace is being represented from Copenhagen via video conference. The activists face potential fines of up to 20,000 Danish Krone. The judge’s final verdict is expected within a month.

[2] The 20 activists who boarded the rig were from the USA, UK, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Finland, Canada, Hungary and Sweden.

[3] Veteran marine biologist and international oil spill expert Professor Rick Steiner has completed a review of the plan for Greenpeace. This can be read alongside the Greenpeace analysis.

[4] On September 15, the NSIDC announced that the sea extent for 2011 was the lowest on record. The polar regions act like a planetary air conditioning system but at the moment the Arctic sea ice appears to be melting faster than ever before. The extent and volume of arctic ice is a litmus test for the health of our climate. Greater melting indicates more rapid climate change.


[5] Earlier this week Cairn admitted that two more of the wells it has drilled this year had come up dry. This means it has found no oil off Greenland over the last two years.