Greenpeace ‘polar bears’ protest Arctic oil drilling

Two Greenpeace activists dressed as polar bears boarded an oil platform in Norway on Wednesday to protest against Norwegian oil and gas group Statoil's planned drilling in the Arctic.

Greenpeace 'polar bears' protest Arctic oil drilling
Greenpeace activists dressed as polar bears at the Statoil oil platform. Photo:

"No oil company in the world is prepared for Arctic conditions," said the head of Greenpeace Norway, Truls Gulowsen, one of the two activists who boarded the West Hercules platform currently stationed in Oelen in southwestern Norway.

"It is unacceptable that Statoil wants to gamble with safety and the environment in the vulnerable Arctic regions," he added in a statement.

Greenpeace sent two "polar bears" to "inspect" the platform and to raise public awareness about the dangers of oil activities in the Arctic, a region with extreme climate conditions and located far from mainland infrastructures.

The West Hercules is scheduled to be sent this month to the Norwegian waters of the Barents Sea, which is normally ice free, to conduct a prospecting campaign that is expected to last into 2014.

The campaign, which calls for up to nine drilling operations including some in zones very far north, is already several months behind schedule. 

"Preparing the platform took longer than expected," Statoil spokesman Ola Anders Skauby said.

After changes to the West Hercules' route, operations in the northernmost zones have been postponed but are still planned.

"We are always evaluating the pace of our drilling in light of our resources and our priorities and there is nothing dramatic" about the changes, Skauby said.

After Shell and Statoil both postponed their respective drilling campaigns in Alaska, Greenpeace said it believes the major oil companies are realizing how difficult it is to operate in the Arctic.

"The oil industry is beginning to understand that drilling in the Arctic is much more difficult than it had us believe," Gulowsen told AFP.

According to a 2008 study by the US Geological Survey, the Arctic could hold up to 22 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas reserves, resources which have become more accessible in recent years as the Arctic ice melts.

Norway's oil production has been in steady decline for more than a decade. 

But the country recently raised its estimates for its oil and gas reserves, due to the Barents Sea reserves.

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NGOs take Norway to European Court over Arctic oil exploration

Two NGOs and six young climate activists have decided to take Norway to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to demand the cancellation of oil permits in the Arctic, Greenpeace announced on Tuesday.

NGOs take Norway to European Court over Arctic oil exploration
Northern Norway. Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash.

It’s the latest turn in a legal tussle between environmental organisations Greenpeace and Young Friends of the Earth Norway on one side and the Norwegian state on the other.

The organisations are demanding the government cancel 10 oil exploration licenses in the Barents Sea awarded in 2016, arguing it was unconstitutional.

Referring to the Paris Agreement, which seeks to limit global warming to less than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the organisations claim that the oil licenses violated article 112 of Norway’s constitution, guaranteeing everyone the right to a healthy environment.”

The six activists, alongside Greenpeace Nordic and Young Friends of the Earth Norway, hope that the European Court of Human Rights will hear their case and find that Norway’s oil expansion is in breach of human rights,” Greenpeace said in a statement.

In December, Norway’s Supreme Court rejected the claim brought by the organisations, their third successive legal defeat.

READ MORE: Norway sees oil in its future despite IEA’s warnings¬†

While most of the judges on the court agreed that article 112 could be invoked if the state failed to meet its climate and environmental obligations– they did not think it was applicable in this case.

The court also held that the granting of oil permits was not contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights, in part because they did not represent “a real and immediate risk” to life and physical integrity.

“The young activists and the environmental organisations argue that this judgment was flawed, as it discounted the significance of their environmental constitutional rights and did not take into account an accurate assessment of the consequences of climate change for the coming generations,” Greenpeace said.

On Friday, the Norwegian government unveiled a white paper on the country’s energy future, which still includes oil exploration despite a warning from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The IEA recently warned that all future fossil fuel projects must be scrapped if the world is to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The Norwegian case is an example of a global trend in which climate activists are increasingly turning to courts to pursue their agenda.