Storm stops oil drilling protest

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Stormy seas and bad weather prevented climate and environmental activists from trying to stop a large drilling rig’s controversial oil exploration efforts near a sensitive coral reef off Helgeland on Thursday. The German oil company that chartered the rig is undaunted by all the protests, and reported that drilling was getting underway.

Bellona’s sailboat Kallinika had to seek safe harbour at Træna because of a storm that the oil drilling rig was able to withstand. Bellona leader Frederic Hauge stressed that the climate and environmental activists on board weren’t giving up their protest plans, just postponing them. PHOTO: Natur og Ungdom/Henrik Lande Andersen

“First we’ll drill a pilot hole,” Kjetil Hjertvik, spokesman for the German firm Wintershall DEA, told state broadcaster NRK. “Then we’ll move the rig a few meters to start drilling the main well.”

The drilling area borders some of the richest fishing grounds and seabird preserves in the world, but it was opened up for oil exploration by the Norwegian government several years ago.

The current government rejected complaints about the project from the environmental organizations Bellona and Natur og Ungdom, clearing the way for more oil exploration even after admitting that Norway won’t meet its climate goals for 2020 and is unlikely to meet them for 2030 either.

That sparked anger within the organizations, which then sailed from Svolvær towards the drilling site in an effort to hinder the drilling. They only got as far as the island of Træna, however, before bad weather made it too hazardous to continue in Bellona’s sailboat. Six-meter waves and strong winds forced them to postpone the protest action against the drilling rig West Hercules, which was big and heavy enough to withstand the storm.

Gaute Eiterjord of Natur og Ungdom (left) and Frederic Hauge of Bellona invited local police on board for coffee and “dialogue” on Thursday. The police claim they just need to ensure the safety of everyone involved. PHOTO: Natur og Ungdom/Henrik Lande Andersen

Bellona leader Frederic Hauge stressed that they weren’t giving up their protests, and would try to wait out the storm at Træna. Police joined them on board “for dialogue” and coffee, while Coast Guard vessels were keeping an eye on Bellona’s boat as well.

“We have told the Coast Guard that we’re not after any drama,” Hauge told NRK. “For us, this is meant to mark how we’re following the oil industry as closely as we can.” He called the new oil drilling “extremely sad” because of the danger it poses for deepwater coral, seabirds and fishing in the area.

Police claimed their job is to prevent any “dangerous situations” tied to oil exploration opposition. “Our assignment is to provide security for those carrying out legal business operations and for those who want to exercise their freedom of expression.” Police noted that Bellona and Natur og Ungdom “still want to mark their opposition and they can do that, while we work to keep everyone safe.”

“We’ll see ho the weather develops during the night and tomorrow,” Hauge responded. He said that their opposition to oil drilling had already received important attention, even before any demonstration is carried out.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund