Greenpeace International continued to express alarm over oil activity in the pristine arctic climate even as the last of its non-Russian activists were freed from prison. For Russia's Gazprom, their freedom means one less hurdle to a bold new campaign in the Pechora Sea.
Campaigners with Greenpeace, later dubbed the Arctic 30, were arrested in September after steering their Arctic Sunrise protest vessel to the Prirazlomnoye drilling platform in the Pechora Sea. Originally charged with piracy, Putin had them released as part of a general amnesty that extended to punk rock group Pussy Riot.
Ben Ayliffe, a campaigner at Greenpeace, said the fight to protect arctic waters would continue unabated.
"Today is only the end of one chapter and we start another," he said as the last of the non-Russian protesters were freed. "There has been no amnesty for the arctic and this is far from over."
Gazprom deployed an ice-resistant oil platform to the shallow water Prirazlomnoye field early this year. The company said the Pechora Sea reserve area may contain more than 520 million barrels of oil and could produce as much as 48 million barrels of oil annually at its peak.
The project is the first of its kind for Gazprom and marks the beginning of what Russian officials said was a long-term strategy for Russia's energy sector. Authorities in Moscow said the reserves from Prirazlomnoye would be sent to Gazprom's clients in Europe and Asia and for Putin, there are no holds barred for protecting strategic interests like oil.
"We do not plan to soften [our stance,]" he said. "We will only be toughening it."
Greenpeace, meanwhile, said there's no need for riskier oil campaigns given the pressing challenges of climate change. The far Russian north, the advocacy group said, is one of the most inhospitable operating environments on the planet and there are no proven ways to clean up an oil spill should one occur.
Gazprom, for its part, said the vessel's design means it's resistant to spills. All of the wellheads, it said, are inside the platform, meaning there's a solid buffer between the sea and any produced hydrocarbons. When Gazprom announced it started production Dec. 20, however, Greenpeace said it marked a "dark day" for the arctic.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, one of Pussy Riot's most outspoken members, said the amnesty was a public relations stunt by Putin to court favor ahead of the Winter Games in Sochi in February. For Gazprom, however, the amnesty cleared the slate ahead of what it said was the dawn of a new era for oil exploration. For Chairman Alexei Miller, the flag is now planted firmly in the north.
"There is no doubt that Gazprom will continue advancing in the arctic," he said.
First oil from Prirazlomnoye is expected next year.
By. Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com