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Oil & Minerals

Greenpeace complaint halts Statoil drill

Decision to lodge official complaint is the latest in a series of non-traditional methods undertaken by the environmental activists
Oil & Minerals
New tactics. Same goal (Photo: Greenpeace/Will Rose)

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Oil firms’ continued push northward in the Arctic Ocean has been temporarily halted after Greenpeace, an environmental organisation, successfully lodged a complaint to Norwegian authorities on the ground that the latest planned drill by Statoil could violate that country’s laws.

The decision, made by Norway’s Environment Agency on Saturday, orders the state-owned oil firm to stop operations related to oil drilling at the Hoop area of the Barents Sea immediately.

The agency indicated that it would take “a significant amount of time” to process the complaint. In reaction, Statoil over the weekend asked for the desist order to be lifted during the review period.

Norwegian officials said Monday that would be unlikely.

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Greenpeace has dispatched one of its sailing vessels to the co-ordinates where the drill was to take place in order to prevent the Statoil drill from beginning operations. It has announced that the ship will remain there until a final decision is issued by the country’s Environment Ministry.

The decision to uphold the Greenplace complaint comes after a Norwegian state advisory board earlier this year told the government that it should stop issuing drilling permits in new areas further to the north and warned that a dozen existing drilling blocks should not be awarded, due the risk of drilling there.

The Hoop drilling operation would have been the northernmost ever undertaken, and Greenpeace considers it the company’s most dangerous operation to date, not least due to its proximity to Bear Island, a wildlife sanctuary located some 175km and which occasionally houses polar bears.

According to Greenpeace, Statoil’s own estimates show that an oil spill could reach the island in under a week.

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Sune Scheller, the lead Greenpeace activist taking part in the blockade of the site urged the Norwegian environment ministry to revoke Statoil’s permission to drill in the Hoop area permanently.

Scheller, referring to an estimate by the Norwegian Polar Institute that at its furthest extent, the edge of the Arctic ice would be 25 kilometres away from the drill site, described the plans to drill in the area as “insane”.

“This area would not have been opened to the oil industry if we had the information we have now,” Scheller told the media, adding that if the complaint were upheld it would set a precedent and help the organisation stop future drills in sensitive areas.

Greenpeace, which has launched a massive public relations campaign against Arctic oil drilling, has previously labelled Statoil as an “Arctic aggressor” and has waged a number of campaigns against drilling operations.

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The most dramatic took place late last year, and resulted in the 30 activists taking part temporarily being charged with piracy. Despite the media attention, the Russian campaign only delayed the Prirazlomnaya rig from beginning production. The first load of oil from the field was delivered earlier this spring.

The Norwegian halt, however, is among the first instances that Greenpeace found success in halting Arctic drilling for an extended period of time and may signal a change in tactics for the organisation.

After years of traditional campaigns in which it has sought to draw attention to the dangers of drilling by forcing temporary halts – often by scaling drilling rigs – Greenpeace has begun employing other methods, such Friday’s complaint, to disrupt drilling.

Likewise, the organisation – along with the WWF, a conservancy group – tried to stop Statoil’s exploration projects in the Arctic, as well as in the tar sands of Alberta, by becoming shareholders in the firm. Statoil is 67 percent owned by the Norwegian state, and the effort failed as expected, even though the organisation said a number of private investors had expressed similar concerns about the environmental risks.

SEE RELATED: As Greenpeace activists head home, oil drilling plans move forward

Among Greenpeace’s other alternative attacks: in conjunction with its current campaign against Statoil, it has launched a mock website titled ‘New Statoil – we’ve found enough oil already’ in which it lays out a stragetgy for stopping Arctic drilling, ending tar sands exploitation and increased focus on wind power.

Far from being totally new, the bogus company statement harkens back to an incident in 2000 in which it claiming to be Statoil, issued a false report that laid out a 10-year sustainable energy plan calling for an the investment of 2 billion kroner ($340 million) in such energy forms.

Statoil does not make such figures available, but if the company's profit for marketing, processing and renewable energy can be used, the campaign was something of a long-term success. In 2013, Statoil’s profits for such activities increased more than fourfold – to 3.5 billion kroner.