Greenpeace Activists Are Refusing To Leave Oil Rig Headed For The Arctic, Despite Legal Threats

CREDIT: Vincenzo Floramo / Greenpeace

Greenpeace activists hold a banner that reads 'The People vs. Shell' as they scaled the Polar Pioneer drill rig in the Pacific Ocean.

On Monday, some 750 miles northwest of Hawaii, six Greenpeace activists boarded a Shell oil rig en route from Malaysia to the Port of Seattle in protest of the oil company’s plans for drilling in the Arctic. A mere 24 hours later, Shell filed a lawsuit in federal court, hoping to kick the activists off of the rig.

“These acts are far from peaceful demonstration,” Shell said in a press release following the injunction, which it filed in federal court in Alaska. “Boarding a moving vessel on the high seas is extremely dangerous and jeopardizes the safety of all concerned, including both the people working aboard and the protestors themselves.”

The protesters, who had been following the rig’s trans-Pacific journey on a Greenpeace ship named the Esperanza, used inflatable boats and climbing gear to approach the vessel carrying the rig — called the Blue Marlin — and scale the rig. The Esperanza, which has several other Greenpeace members on board, is continuing to follow the Blue Marlin, bringing protesters food and supplies as needed.

The 400-foot-tall rig, dubbed the Polar Pioneer, is intended to be staged for Arctic drilling once it reaches Seattle. It is one of two rigs eventually bound for the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska, an area that Shell — pending federal permits — intends to develop for offshore drilling.

“We are certainly prepared to stay here as long as it takes to get out message out loud and clear that Arctic drilling is unacceptable,” Aliyah Field, environmental activist and one of the protesters currently on the rig told ThinkProgress.

Field said that, despite wind and cold, “everyone is feeling pretty good.” The protesters haven’t had direct contact with the Blue Marlin’s crew, and Field said that the crew hasn’t displayed any clear hostility toward them.

Field had not heard about Shell’s lawsuit, but in an e-mailed statement, Greenpeace USA’s Executive Director Annie Leonard called the injunction “Shell’s latest attempt to keep people from standing up for the Arctic.”

“Shell wants activists off its rig,” Leonard said. “We want Shell out of the Arctic.”

The protest comes a week after the Obama administration reaffirmed Shell’s 2008 lease in the Chukchi Sea, essentially giving the company the green light to begin preparations for drilling in the Arctic as early as this summer. Shell has reportedly spent $4 billion in its effort to drill in the Arctic, but hasn’t been allowed to drill there since 2012, when a key piece of safety equipment used in cleaning up oil spills failed.

Environmentalists worry that, given the Artcic’s remoteness and extreme weather, an oil spill would be a near-certainty. An Environmental Impact Report released by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) — part of the Department of the Interior, which gave last week’s go-ahead — found that, under the current plan for drilling in the Chukchi Sea, there is a 75 percent chance of a major oil spill in the Arctic.

This isn’t the first time that Greenpeace has boarded vessels in an attempt to stop Shell from drilling in the Arctic. In February of 2012, actress Lucy Lawless and seven other activists boarded an Arctic-bound drilling ship while it was in port in New Zealand. A month later, in March of 2012, activists boarded two ice-breakers leased by Shell as they were preparing to sail from Helsikni, Finland to the Arctic.

Following those protests, Shell won a federal court injunction that required Greenpeace USA to stay away from any of their Arctic-bound drill rigs until October of 2012.