Norway creates impromptu safety zone around drilling site as Greenpeace cries foul

Press release - 30 May, 2014
Barents Sea, 30 May 2014 - Late last night Norway’s Ministry of Petroleum informed the Greenpeace ship Esperanza of the creation of 'safety zone' around a drilling site in the Barents sea. Esperanza is currently occupying the site preventing Statoil-contracted rig Transocean Spitsbergen from drilling the worlds northernmost well.

Greenpeace International immediately rejected the move and lodged an appeal, claiming the Ministry had failed to provide a notice period required by international and Norwegian law. The full text of Greenpeace's appeal can be read here.

"There is no reason why the Esperanza should have to make way for oil companies to drill here because of the abrupt and irregular declaration of a safety zone. Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, foreign vessels enjoy freedom of navigation through the Exclusive Economic Zone," explained Greenpeace International legal counsel Daniel Simons. "We certainly have as much right to be here as companies drilling for Arctic oil."

The Esperanza has been occupying Statoil's proposed drill site since 1300 CET on Thursday, and received notice from the Ministry at 2030. Statoil plans to drill world's northernmost oil well at the site which is just 175 km from the Arctic nature reserve Bear Island.

Sune Scheller, Arctic campaigner onboard the Esperanza said: "We are conducting a peaceful protest against the madness of Arctic Oil. It goes against everything we know from climate science, is extremely risky and an oil spill here would be close to impossible to clean up so close to Bear Island." 

Greenpeace maintains that the zone cannot be applied as Statoil has failed to follow rules of notification. Under international law, "due notice" must be given for the establishment of a safety zone (1). Norwegian law similarly states that the operator - in this case Statoil - must ensure a "public announcement well in advance of the establishment of a safety zone", which is specified to be at least 30 days ahead of time (2). Neither the notification nor the public announcement has taken place.

A total of 15 Greenpeace activists occupied the Statoil contracted oil rig on Tuesday at 5 AM CET. When the police removed the activists some 48 hours later, the Esperanza headed directly for the drill site and continued the occupation, preventing the rig from moving into position. All activists were released without charge.

Over 100,000 people have now signed a petition to Norwegian Environment minister Tine Sundtoft asking her to reconsider the decision to allow drilling near Bear Island, a protected nature reserve. Statoil cannot drill into oil-bearing layers of rock until Minister Sundtoft properly considers a Greenpeace appeal against the decision.


Pictures & video from the activity available at:

Birgitte Lesanner, Greenpeace communications officer (Danish/English), +45 2395 1214,

1) Article 60, paragraph 5 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea states, in relevant part: "Due notice shall be given of the extent of safety zones."

2) Section 61 of the Norwegian Regulations Relating To Health, Safety and the Environment in the Petroleum Activities and at Certain Onshore Facilities state, in relevant part: "The operator shall ensure necessary public announcement well in advance of the establishment of a safety zone." The explanatory guidelines add: "Official publication of a safety zone shall, as a rule, be submitted to the Norwegian Hydrographic Service at least 30 days before the zone is established."

3) The drilling site is 74° North within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Spitsbergen, which extends 200 miles from the coastline. Under Article 58, paragraph 1,of the International Law of the Sea, foreign vessels like the Esperanza enjoy freedom of navigation through the Exclusive Economic Zone.

4) See the Letter from the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy to Statoil establishing the safety zone here, (only in Norwegian).

5) See the Greenpeace complaint to Ministry of Petroleum and Energy here.

There are 26 crew onboard MY Esperanza from 18 nationalities: NOR, GBR, DK, DEU, CYP, SE, NZL, BEL, US, SLB, THA, AUS, IND, BGR, NL, AUT, HRV, ESP.