Environmental campaigners have stopped an oil platform from moving into position to start drilling a well in deep water off the Shetland Islands by climbing up its huge anchor chain.
The Greenpeace activists used boats to reach the 228m long Stena Carron drill ship, anchored a mile off-shore. They then climbed up the giant rungs of the chain. Victor Rask and Anais Schneider are now hanging above the waves in a tent suspended by ropes from one of the metre long rungs, meaning the ship is unable to get to the drill site.
The rig, operated by US energy giant Chevron, was about to sail for a site in the Lagavulin oil field before drilling an exploratory well in 500 metres of water. Since the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, environmental campaigners have joined forces with politicians across the world to demand a ban on new deep water drilling.
Anais and Victor have just returned from a Greenpeace expedition to the Arctic, where they were members of the team that stopped drilling on a controversial rig operated in deep water by Edinburgh-based Cairn Energy. Speaking this morning by satellite phone from the tent hanging from the Stena Carron anchor chain, 29 year old Anais said:
"It was incredible to climb up the anchor chain, the rungs were almost as big as I am and Chevron's drilling ship is one of the biggest things I've ever seen at sea. I'm in the tent now and we have supplies, meaning we can stop it leaving to drill for oil in deep water. Shetland is so beautiful and an oil spill here could devastate this area. It's time to go beyond oil. Our addiction is harming the climate, the natural world and our chances of building a clean energy future."
The occupation comes two days before environment ministers from countries bordering the North Sea meet to discuss a German proposal to ban new deep water drilling. The UK government is sending a minister to the meeting in Norway to block the proposal.
The other climber in the hanging tent is 38-year old Victor Rask. He said:
"David Cameron said his government would be the greenest ever, but he won't even support a plan to protect our seas from a BP-style disaster. Instead of drilling for the last drops in fragile environments like this, oil companies should be developing the clean energy technologies we need to fight climate change and reduce our dependence on oil. We need a global ban on deep water drilling, and longer term we need a permanent shift away from fossil fuels towards clean energy solutions."
Greenpeace is threatening legal action against the Cameron government in an effort to stop the granting of new permits for deep water drilling off the UK. Last month Greenpeace lawyers wrote a so-called ‘letter before action' to ministers - the precursor to seeking a judicial review of the decision to push ahead with new deep water drilling before the lessons from the BP disaster have been learned. Permits are granted by Lib Dem Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne.
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Investigations into the Gulf of Mexico spill are still underway and the full extent of the tragedy is only now being discovered. Any clean-up operation off Shetland could be severely hampered by rough weather, making it more expensive and difficult than the operation in the US, which as of September 2010 had already cost nearly $10bn, with continuing costs of $90m per day. Colder waters would also mean that oil would disperse much more slowly, and therefore cause greater damage to wildlife.
Harsh weather conditions west of Shetland, in what is described by the Government as ‘a particularly challenging location', have so far deterred major exploitation of oil, but recently energy firms have lobbied for tax breaks to make production more attractive. In January this year Alistair Darling announced changes that could be worth £12 billion over the next eight years. The Eggar review, led by former Conservative Energy Minister and oilman Tim Eggar, is expected to recommend further incentives. The Lib Dem-Conservative coalition government is refusing to release the contents of the Review.
The process by which exploration and production licenses are issued to the industry is being ‘streamlined'. As a result, Chevron, BP and other oil majors have announced their intention to push further into the region west of Shetland, drilling wells in riskier deeper waters and more remote locations than ever before.