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Greenpeace defeated in Arctic protest, considers next move

Greenpeace's ship "Esperanza" on site at the "Transocean Spitsbergen" drilling rig.
Norwegian coastguard towed Greenpeace's ship "Esperanza" away from the Statoil drilling site in the Barents Sea on Friday. (Photo: Greenpeace.org)

Greenpeace efforts to stop the northernmost oil prospect in the world failed after a standoff in the Barents Sea ultimately led to removal of the organization’s ship “Esperanza” by the Norwegian coastguard on Friday. The ship was released early Saturday morning 10 hours after what Greenpeace says was an illegal boarding by the coastguard in international waters.

Greenpeace efforts to stop the northernmost oil prospect in the world failed after a standoff in the Barents Sea ultimately led to removal of the organization’s ship “Esperanza” by the Norwegian coastguard on Friday. The ship was released early Saturday morning 10 hours after what Greenpeace says was an illegal boarding by the coastguard in international waters. 

The development follows a week-long effort by Greenpeace to delay drilling by the Norwegian company Statoil in an area considered high risk for drilling due to its proximity to the Bjørnøya Bear Island nature preserve and the sea ice shelf. Activists first boarded the drilling rig in transit Tuesday and were removed by authorities. The “Esperanza” Thursday squatted in protest at the proposed drilling site in the Hoop area of the Barents Sea before being towed Friday.  No charges were issued to the activists removed from the rig or the ship’s crew or captain. 

The protest organization’s leader said they appreciate that their peaceful protests were met with a peaceful response from the Norwegian government unlike the Russian response to Greenpeace protests in September, but they are disappointed with the both governments’ authorization of illegal boarding as well as the long-term outcome for the Arctic.

“The government is placing the short term interests of Statoil higher than the long-term needs of the arctic environment,” Greenpeace Norway leader Truls Gulowsen told BarentsObserver. “We believe there need to be some limits on how far north drilling operations are allowed. The proximity to Bear Island and the sea ice are critical elements in that equation.”

The organization expressed disappointment with the Norwegian Ministry on Environment and Climate’s rejection last Monday of Greenpeace pleas to re-examine drilling in the area. The denial, Gulowsen says, was based on out-dated information. “When evidence from the Polar Institute shows that the well is near the ice edge and evidence from Statoil itself shows the surprisingly short time that a spill could reach Bear Island, the obvious conclusion should be that the drilling cannot take place.”

Gulowsen says Greenpeace maintains its position on the arctic drilling but does not intend to further interfere at the site of the drilling, though the organization is still considering whether to take legal action against the Norwegian government for illegally boarding the ship. Esperanza is currently in Tromso where it is reunited with its crew and the activists who boarded the drilling rig before heading south.