A decision by the Norwegian government on exploration in the Barents Sea has dented, but not deterred, the ongoing campaign by Greenpeace to stop oil drilling in the Arctic.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said areas in the Arctic covered by sea ice have been at near-record lows since at least 2002. That's leaving the area ice-free for longer periods of time, which gives exploration and production companies more of a chance to tap in to the 90 billion barrels of oil thought to be in the region.
Greenpeace says the irony is that the oil industry itself is to blame for the emissions that are causing the ice melt.
In their latest campaign actions, Greenpeace members protested rigs leased by Russian energy company Gazprom and Norway's state-controlled Statoil.
"The Arctic matters to us all, and protecting it demands a truly global response," Greenpeace International campaigner Ben Ayliffe said in a statement. "We cannot let a reckless club of international oil companies hunt for the last drops as the ice melts away."
On May 27, Dutch police arrested Greenpeace campaigners who scaled a Gazprom drilling rig bound for the Pechora Sea.
In the Statoil incident, the situation saw Greenpeace activists ignore a police order to abandon their protest. The advocacy group trailed the Spitsbergen rig to the drilling location, prompting the Norwegian government to step in and set up a temporary safety zone to keep the activists away.
Greenpeace said the safety zone was a farce, but the Norwegian government gave Statoil permission to move forward with its drilling campaign and the Norwegian Coast Guard took control of the group’s ship, Esperanza, and removed it from the site.
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The environmental group believes that Statoil’s drilling plans threaten an uninhabited wildlife sanctuary, Bear Island, which is home to rare species. Statoil has dismissed those concerns, saying there is a low risk of an oil spill and even if there were one, it wouldn’t reach the island.
Norwegian police took seven activists into custody after the protest.
Greenpeace says it has public support on its side. When members of the group – the so-called Arctic 30 -- were held initially on piracy charges by Russian authorities last year, several celebrities and political leaders, including United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, called for leniency. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin said their cause was "noble," but added their ends didn't justify the means.
The protests are being felt at the industry level. According to Greenpeace, “Since the campaign began, the French oil company Total has ruled out drilling for oil in the offshore Arctic…recognizing that ‘a spill would do too much damage to the image of the company.’ Russian oil giant Lukoil has also suggested it 'wouldn't give a kopeck' to offshore development in the Arctic. The government of Finland last year adopted the concept of an Arctic sanctuary as official policy.”
As for Statoil, its drilling operations were suspended after the latest incident for more than 80 hours, which Greenpeace called a victory. With a day rate of $500,000 to lease Spitsbergen from Transocean, the protest cost the Norwegian company nearly $1.8 million.
By Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com