UPDATED: The Greenpeace ship Esperanza, moored at the Hoop drilling site 175 kilometers from Bjørnøya (Bear Island) on Friday afternoon, was later boarded by Coast Guard officials who started towing the vessel away from its position. Norwegian officials had claimed Greenpeace was illegally defying the Norwegian government’s announcement earlier in the day that the area was a “safety zone” where only authorized vessels were allowed, while Greenpeace vowed to continue its fight against Arctic oil drilling.
Greenpeace had dropped anchor at Hoop exactly where Statoil planned to begin drilling the world’s northernmost oil exploration wells, and simply ignored the government’s edict. Meanwhile, the group was disappointed after Norwegian Environment Minister Tine Sundtoft dismissed its complaint late on Friday afternoon, which led to the Coast Guard action against Greenpeace on Friday night. Greenpeace’s Esperanza was boarded, towed towards the south and then released. No charges were filed against any of the Greenpeace activists, but Greenpeace was threatening legal action of its own against the state for what it claimed was an illegal boarding and towing of its vessel in international waters.
The conflict over Arctic drilling began when Greenpeace activists boarded the Transocean Spitsbergen drilling rig in the early hours of Tuesday morning, and remained there until they were peacefully removed by Nord-Troms police on Thursday. They immediately began their next protest action, mooring the Esperanza right where Statoil’s first exploration well was to be drilled.
In response, the Ministry of Oil and Energy announced a temporary “security zone” in a 500-meter radius from where the rig is supposed to drill, reported news bureau NTB. Only vessels included in Statoil’s petroleum activities were allowed in the area. An intense stand-off ensued throughout Friday, after Greenpeace claimed the zone was invalid because Statoil had not followed the notification rules.
“Under international law, the reason for the establishment of a security zone shall be notified,” said Greenpeace Norway in a press release. “One, Norwegian law says clearly that the operator – in this case Statoil – must ensure a “public declaration in good time prior to the establishment of a security zone” through disclosing the decision at least 30 days prior to the zone’s establishment. Two, this warning first came yesterday, and Greenpeace has appealed the decision to the Ministry of Oil and Energy.”
“There is no reason why the Esperanza would have to give way for the oil company to drill because of an abrupt and irregular declaration of a security zone,” Greenpeace’s legal adviser Daniel Simons said in the release. “According to the UN convention on the law of the sea, foreign ships have the right to full freedom of navigation through the Norwegian economic zone. We clearly have as much right to be here as the oil companies.”
No police intervention
“It is the Norwegian authorities who have approved the activity in the area, and it is the Norwegian authorities who have the responsibility for facilitating the business,” Statoil’s information manager Morten Eek told NTB. “That means among other things that there is security around installations on the Norwegian continental shelf. We are following the process.”
Greenpeace said they had not been asked to move on. “Statoil’s plan is to stop the action pursuant to the decision from the Ministry of Oil and Energy, and the company wants the police and coast guard to go into action,” said Greenpeace Norway’s leader, Truls Gulowsen. “But we have not yet received any orders to remove ourselves.”
The Ministry of Climate and Environment dismissed Greenpeace’s complaints over Statoil’s exploration program late on Friday afternoon. The organization lodged an appeal on Monday immediately after the ministry gave Statoil permission to drill, overturning an earlier suspension.
“According to the Environment Directorate’s assessment, these simulations show that there is a low probability of stranding of oil on Bjørnøya in the event of spills, and that the environmental risk of the activity is acceptable,” wrote the department director Per W Schive in the ministry’s response to Greenpeace’s complaint.
“Sundtoft had a golden chance to show that she took the environment, ice edge and Bjørnøya seriously,” said Gulowsen. “She has not taken this chance, and we are disappointed with the decision. We are going to continue the protests, Statoil should keep away from here.”
Meanwhile, Greenpeace delivered a petition containing 120,000 signatures to the Ministry of Climate and Environment on Friday morning, calling on the government to stop Statoil’s Arctic exploration campaign.