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Oil & Minerals

Interview with an activist: Saving the Arctic, one oil company at a time

The head of Greenpeace Denmark’s “Stop Shell: Save the Arctic” campaign knows he has an uphill battle to stop Arctic oil drilling
Oil & Minerals
For Fuglsang (centre), throwing up his hands in resignation is not an option (Photo: Greenpeace)

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Niels Fuglsang is project leader for Greenpeace Denmark’s Arctic campaign. The group is focused on stopping the current campaign by several oil companies and countries to drill for oil throughout the Arctic.

The Danish group was in the national headlines in August after 36 activists climbed a three metre high fence dressed as polar bears and occupied a Shell oil refinery in Fredericia, a small town in western Denmark, to protest Shell’s exploration of the Arctic. The group managed to hang two large banners and film the entire episode.

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At about the same time, the parent group’s icebreaker Arctic Sunrise was taking on the Russians above the Arctic Circle in the Northeast Passage above that country. Fuglsang said that all of the media stunts are about awareness.

“We are activists trying to make people aware of the dangers of drilling in the Arctic,” he said.

Hitting oil companies on the bottom line
Fuglsang said he believes the tactics are raising awareness.

“People are becoming more interested,” he said. “The more they learn, the more they know of the dangers that drilling in the Arctic presents. Five years ago, I would not have really believed that we could stop drilling, but we now have millions of people that have signed up for the Stop Shell campaign on our website that are putting pressure on the companies and governments.”

Fuglsang said some of Greenpeace’s more extreme activities; boarding drilling platforms and chaining themselves to ship’s masts are designed to raise awareness and hopefully slow down drilling efforts.

“We want to cost them money, but we also want to raise the debate” he said. “Every bit of attention we can create affects the media, politicians and investors. If we can also make them stop their activities temporarily that is an added benefit.”

Fuglsang said the element of surprise – the companies not knowing where or when Greepeace may turn up – works in the group’s favour.

Political will is the key
Doing battle with multinationals and governments to prevent drilling in the Arctic, Fuglsang said, can be exhausting

“Shell is leading the way in Alaska, for example, but they had a series of accidents last year and have been were told by the US government to stop exploration this year,” he said. “People take notice when the US secretary of the interior tells a company that it needs to rethink its safety plan.”

Fuglsang said incidents like those in Alaska make people increasingly nervous about Arctic drilling, especially in places like Greenland and Russia where the exploration continues under assurances from the companies and governments that Arctic drilling is safe.

“Oil companies don’t care what people think, but the politicians do, and if enough people apply pressure the politicians will make the companies listen,” he said.

“People who never thought of the Arctic before are becoming more and more aware of the consequences that an accident in that environment could have on the whole planet.”