EcoAlert: Greenpeace Faces Danish Warship in Arctic Oil Drilling Protest

070824-arctic-oil_big Greenpeace faced a Danish warship in the freezing seas off Greenland as the environmental group's protest ship ‘Esperanza' approached one of the world's most controversial oil drilling projects operated by the British company Cairn Energy in an area known as ‘iceberg alley'  in Baffin Bay - home to 80 to 90% of the world's Narwhals. The region is also home to blue whales, polar bears, seals, sharks, cormorants, kittiwakes and numerous other migratory birds.

According to Greenpeace reorts, the Greenpeace ship left London 12 days ago vowing to challenge the oil industry at the site of a dangerous deepwater drilling project in the wake of the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, but didn't reveal its intended location until yesterday when the ship arrived in the seas west of Disko Island in the Arctic.

The Danish government sent the Vaedderen, a Thetis-class warship, to protect two drilling sites being operated by Britain's Cairn Energy. A special forces commando team was earlier dispatched to the Faroe Islands, where the Copenhagen government originally thought the Esperanza was headed. It is thought the Danish equivalent to navy SEALS have now been sent to the Cairn site and campaigners this morning reported seeing three navy inflatable boats in the waters around the rig.

The world's oil giants have been watching the $420m Cairn project with intense interest. If the Edinburgh-based company strikes oil in the fragile environment west of Greenland analysts expect a new Arctic oil rush, with Exxon, Chevron and other energy giants already buying up licenses to drill in the area and making preparations to move in.

Cairn is having to tow icebergs out of the rig's path or use water cannons to divert them. If the icebergs are too large the company has pledged to move the rig itself to avoid a collision. Last month a 260km  ice island broke off the Petermann glacier north of Disko island. 

Cairn Energy has pledged to drill a further two wells before the ‘summer window' closes at the end of September. The government of Greenland is refusing to release details of the company's spill response plan, seriously undermining the company's assurances on safety according to Greenpeace

There is a 500m security zone surrounding each of the rigs. The Esperanza has been warned that the ship will be raided and the Captain arrested if the ship breaches that cordon. The Greenpeace ship is currently just outside the zone, while the Danish warship has positioned itself alongside the Esperanza.

The environmental consequences of a spill in the Arctic environment would be far more serious than in warmer seas such as the Gulf of Mexico. Serious impacts of the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska are still being felt over 20 years later.

Greenpeace says that "to see a huge drilling rig in this beautiful and fragile environment is deeply shocking. The tragic oil disasters in the Gulf and in China this year clearly illustrate the need to go beyond oil.  Companies like Cairn need to leave the Arctic alone and start developing the clean tools that will actually help us get off fossil fuels for good. Climate change is already having an impact on millions of people around the world but oil companies are completely ignoring the new reality we face. That's why we're here to deliver a message to them in person – go home now."

The company is expected to reveal whether the first two wells it is currently drilling in Baffin Bay have been successful, as well as outlining plans to drill two new wells in the same area.

Casey Kazan via Greenpeace.

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