Activists Camp Out on Arctic Oil Drilling Rig

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Oh Greenpeace. Only PETA outshines you in the shameless publicity stunt department, and yet here I am, falling for your tricks, because this week your eco-warriors have attached themselves — literally — to a topic I can’t resist: the quest to find oil in the Arctic.

At 3AM on May 29, a Greenpeace team left the Esperanza, the environmental group’s itinerant ship that makes officials ’round the world reach for their antacids, in a couple of inflatable boats. Under the cover of night, two Greenpeacers ensconced themselves in an ‘arctic survival pod’ that was then hung from an oil rig 100 miles off the coast of Greenland. The rig, named Leiv Eiriksson, is operated by Cairn Energy, a Scottish oil firm that started exploratory drilling in Greenland’s waters last year and plans to continue its search this summer when the northern seas are free of ice and conditions are manageable.

The Danish Navy, which is in charge of Greenland’s security, is not amused.

The Navy has been tailing two Greenpeace vessels for the last week. Now it has declared the activists are in violation of a 500-meter exclusion zone around the Leiv Eiriksson, from which all unauthorized persons are banned from entering.  According to the Guardian, the Navy and the Greenlandic government in Nuuk, which has issued Cairn and several major oil companies licenses to drill in its waters, are considering legal action against Greenpeace.

Studies have shown that Greenland may hold billions of barrels of oil and gas, and the Danish territory is banking on that potential revenue to aid in its ongoing quest for independence from Denmark. Last year, Cairn started exploratory drilling off the coast with less than spectacular results. (Greenpeace protestors climbed onto a Cairn-operated rig last summer too, but had to evacuate shortly after due to bad weather.) This year, the Edinburgh-based company plans to drill up to four more exploratory wells in different locations. (Read more about Cairn’s 2011 drilling locations here.)

The environmental group says that Cairn, Greenland and Denmark are collectively selling out the Arctic environment by risking an oil spill in a pristine region where it would be difficult to respond quickly and effectively to an accident of Deepwater Horizon proportions. As Greenpeace campaigner Ben Ayliffe said via a  statement released Monday from the Esperanza:

The oil rig I am looking at now and that our activists are preventing from drilling represents the crazy thinking that is bringing us to the brink of runaway climate change. Instead of seeing a warming arctic as an ominous warning they treat it as an invitation to drill for more climate changing fossil fuels, threatening the arctic environment in the process.

Greenland has refuted the claim that the drilling is unsafe or that they are unprepared for an emergency, saying that the government has a thorough emergency response plan in place, including the presence of another rig at all times to drill a relief well there is a blow out and regular supervision and inspection of all drilling activity.

Meanwhile… what does one do in an arctic survival pod? Sounds more fun than being at non-eco-warrior work. The two activists, which hope to prevent Cairn from commencing drilling, say they have enough food and water to keep them hanging there 10 days. Here an excerpt from the  blog that Hannah, the female pod dweller, posted this morning: “For Luke and I the day’s activities  include the following: Drinking tea, reading, tweeting, uploading photos, knitting, eating, sleeping, stretching, radio communications, perhaps some calls with media and then another spot of tea before bed. It’s a busy life here in the pod!”