The Danish navy has warned Greenpeace that the Esperanza will be boarded by armed personnel if it breaches a 500-meter exclusion zone around two wells drilled off Greenland by the Edinburgh-based oil firm Cairn Energy.
Greenpeace activists on Monday in the Arctic on board one of its ships to pressure Cairn to stop operations in offshore Greenland, which is home to blue whales, polar bears, seals and migratory birds.
The confrontation came as scores of climate protesters targeted Cairn Energy's headquarters and six other businesses in Edinburgh during a day of action to protest against the funding of oil and gas industries by the Royal Bank of Scotland. The protests led to the shutting down of the RBS headquarters on the eastern edge of Edinburgh for the day, with thousands of staff told to work from home or other RBS offices. Twelve Climate Camp activists were arrested during the protest.
The protesters say RBS is the most significant backer of oil, gas and coal mining of any British bank, arranging or directly loaning £13bn to "dirty" fossil fuel industries since the government bailout in October 2008. That includes directly funding companies exploiting energy-intensive tar sands in the Canadian wilderness.
Eight protesters dressed in black took a fake pig dripping molasses to the headquarters of Cairn Energy, which has become the focus of environment protests over its drilling in the Arctic and its business dealings with the Indian mining company Vedanta.
The protesters claim Cairn has been given £117m in loans and equity by RBS last year, almost half of which was used to fund Cairn's Arctic drilling operations.
As climate camp protesters smeared the fake oil at Cairn's front entrance, Friends of the Earth Scotland attacked the company for selling a large part of its Indian drilling operations to Vedanta, which has been widely accused of abusing human rights and the environment at a bauxite mine on Orissa.
Amid protests more oil found
On Tuesday, Cairn Energy said it had discovered gas in offshore Greenland, amid environmental protests by Greenpeace to stop its operations near the nation's fragile coast.
Cairn said it has "encountered gas" at its first well in Baffin Bay, offshore Greenland, with indications that there may be other hydrocarbon resources in the area. Some geologists have long believed that Davis Strait, the frosty waters between Greenland and Baffin Island, is one of the richest untapped frontiers in the hydrocarbon world.
The Edinburgh-based company is drilling in a basin the size of the North Sea, meaning the find is potentially of enormous significance. (Left: Crain's second rig obtained for 2010 drilling in Greenland waters).
"I am encouraged that we have early indications of a working hydrocarbon system with our first well in Greenland, confirming our belief in the exploration potential," chief executive Bill Gammell said.
The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that some 50 billion barrels of oil may be found offshore Greenland, where ice covers four-fifths of the surface territory for a good part of the year. This would be enough oil to meet the energy demands from every country in Europe for almost two years.
Some in Greenland, which has a population of only 57,000, hope that oil will be the ticket to independence from Denmark, which has controlled the island since the 18th century. The portion of the Labrador Current
flowing through Davis Strait off western Greenland is known as “iceberg alley” because huge chunks of ice that calve from the northern glaciers make their way into the northern Atlantic along this route. Ironically, global warming, which has melted some of the Arctic glaciers, has made offshore drilling in these waters more feasible.
However, the Gulf oil spill is raising concerns in Canada about the risks posed in drilling so near the Canadian coastline. Cairn Energy’s only offshore drilling experience has been in the much warmer Indian Ocean, and no one has had to cope with an oil spill in Arctic waters.
Greenpeace activists were understandably not thrilled with the discovery. "Cairn might be a step closer to finding oil off Greenland, but this takes us one step back in the fight against climate change," said Greenpeace campaigner Leila Deen, speaking on board the ship Esperanza. (Greenpeace activists protest at oil rig)
The development "poses a grave threat to the fragile Arctic environment," added the activist. The activists with Greenpeace were outraged that the beauty of the Arctic would be put at risk to drill for this oil. A spill in the region – even a minor one – would be catastrophic. Dozens of Canadian towns along iceberg alley in Nunavut and Labrador would be coated, their paltry defenses overwhelmed.
“The clear and present danger is Greenland,” said Larry Bagnell, the Liberal critic for northern affairs. Green groups say a blow out like that at BP's Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico could cause even more damage in Greenland as cold conditions would mean limited evaporation of the oil.
Active Protests with Esperanza and against RBS
He said: "It seems crazy to us that the Arctic sea ice is melting, and the oil industry response is to start drilling here, rather than take melting sea ice as a warning about the huge risk to humanity from global warming."
Morten Neilsen, the deputy chief of Greenland police, said his officers were reacting as they would with any demonstration. "Since this is out in water, it would be quite impossible to send a patrol car. If we want a police presence, it has to be by boat," he said.
He refused to comment on whether Danish special forces were involved but said Greenpeace was observing the instruction to remain outside the exclusion zone.
RBS denies that it had directly funded Cairn's Arctic exploration, saying this was a risky form of investment which needed different types of funding. The bank did lend Cairn Energy money and arrange other loans, but neither it nor Cairn would confirm the sums involved.
The oil company said it and the Greenland authorities abided by some of the world's strictest safety and environmental rules. We've put procedures in place to give the highest possible priority to safety and environmental protection," the company said.
At the RBS's £335m headquarters in Gogarburn, around 500 campaigners (left) spent the last four days gathering at the camp, which occupied two meadows inside the perimeter fence. Members of the activist group Climate Camp have been set up outside the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) global headquarters in Edinburgh since last week in order to protest the bank’s financing of the fossil fuel industry.
From a report in the Herald Scotland:
A Climate Camp spokesman said seven activists had superglued themselves to the car park of the RBS industrial estate at the Gyle Shopping Centre in Edinburgh. Another group of seven activists climbed Forth Energy’s building. Two scaled the roof and hung banners reading “Bio mass health hazard”. At one point, according to the Climate Camp group, three were inside and two chained themselves to the front of the building. Activists said they had also created an “oil slick”, using molasses, outside Cairn Energy’s offices in Lothian Road.Today's direct action targeted the headquarters of Forth Energy in Leith, which plans to build large biomass power stations at ports around Scotland, where five protesters who chained and glued themselves to the building.
A group of protesters, including Fringe performers, shut down the Nicolson Street RBS branch. Three individuals super-glued themselves across the front doorway, while another group played music and danced while handing out leaflets. There were three arrests.
After the previous group of protesters was removed by police, a group of "tar-covered" protesters shut down the Nicolson Street RBS branch a second time, as several activists locked themselves onto the building.
A banner was dropped from a building reading "oil tar sands = environmental chaos". There were two arrests.
The Guardian,"Danish warship blocks Greenpeace Arctic oil protest", accessed August 26, 2010
Google News, "Cairn discovers gas in offshore Greenland amid protests", accessed August 26, 2010
Stockopedia, "Greenland Plans for Offshore Drilling in Arctic Waters, with Shell and Statoil bidding to join Cairn Energy", accessed August 25, 2010
Greenfudge.org,"Superglue and molasses: Climate camp protests change gears in Scotland", accessed August 23, 2010