Boris, is this even legal? Greenpeace protests as work on Cambo oil field set to start before permit is officially granted

Online announcement says drilling equipment will be installed in the coming days, but no legal permit is in place


  • Greenpeace has learned that work on the controversial Cambo oil field is set to start before a development permit has been granted. 
  • Activists in kayaks confronted a vessel preparing to leave with key drilling kit, and called on Boris Johnson to stop Cambo. 
  • If the UK government has secretly allowed oil companies to start work on Cambo before making a final decision, Greenpeace argues that this is unlawful.

Pics will be available here.

ACTIVISTS from Greenpeace have staged a protest as work on the Cambo oil field looks set to begin without a development permit having been officially granted from the UK government.

Greenpeace has learned that key drilling kit is set to be installed at the Cambo oil field this week, and it fears that the UK government may have jumped the gun on its own official process by allowing oil companies to install the kit at the site, west of Shetland. 

If the government has secretly given consent for work to start before making its official decision, Greenpeace argues that this is unlawful. 

The proposed Cambo project has been met with fierce opposition because, if approved, it would mean the UK government signing off on 170m barrels of new oil just weeks before hosting global climate talks, COP26, in Glasgow. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has called on Boris Johnson to “reassess” the oil project in light of UK climate commitments.

Yesterday [MON 23] two Greenpeace activists in kayaks paddled out to the oil companies’ contracted ship, the Siem Day, which is set to depart with the kit from a dock near Stavanger, Norway. The activists held up a banner saying: “Boris: Stop Cambo”.

Mel Evans, head of oil and gas transition at Greenpeace UK, said: “Boris Johnson must explain why an oil company is setting up shop on this massive project before a final decision on Cambo has been announced. Has his government done a secretive, backdoor deal to allow work to start before an official permit has been granted?

“If so, he will be remembered as a climate failure who faltered when he should have shown courage. Johnson must stop Cambo, and he must stop it today.”

A Notice to Mariners was published on Friday, August 6, announcing the intention to start installing key drilling infrastructure, known as CAN-ductors, at the Cambo field [1]. Installing the CAN-ductors, which are 57ft tall and almost 20ft in diameter, is the first step towards starting the controversial project. 

Eli Matvik, a volunteer for Greenpeace Norway, said: “Governments allowing new oil fields in the middle of a climate emergency is a scandal, and it’s really provocative that work is starting before the actual permission. If the UK government won’t listen to the urgent warnings from the UN climate body and their own climate advisors, we need to be louder.”

The UK government is currently considering whether to grant a final permit for the oil companies to develop the Cambo oil field which would lead to emissions equivalent of up to 18 coal fired power stations operating for a year. Greenpeace argues that if the government and the Oil and Gas Authority were to properly investigate the environmental damage from the new Cambo wells, it could not possibly go ahead.

Greenpeace UK has written a letter to Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, asking him to ensure that Siccar Point and Shell do not begin work without a valid permit, and pointing out that any commencement of work without a permit in place could amount to a criminal offence.

It follows an earlier letter to the Business Secretary, where Greenpeace urged Mr Kwarteng MP to stop Cambo, pointing out that the International Energy Agency has made it clear that he should not allow new oil or gas development. The government has previously stated that it would make a decision on whether the Cambo project could go ahead within the next two months.

Siccar Point Energy has applied for a permit to develop the Cambo oil field for which it holds a licence shared with Royal Dutch Shell. Shell has already been told by courts in the Netherlands that it must cut its production by 45% by 2030, so if the UK government gives Shell permission to start new production in Cambo it could be in conflict with that legal ruling. 

If the government approves a permit for the Cambo project to go ahead, Greenpeace will mount a legal challenge. 


Contact: Greenpeace UK Press Office – or 07801 212 960


A developer must not commence a project without the Secretary of State’s agreement to the Oil and Gas Authority’s grant of consent and the consent of the Oil and Gas Authority (Reg 4 of the Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration Regulations 2020). To do so is a criminal offence (Reg 25 (3)(a).

[1] The Notice to Mariners was issued by Petrofac Facilities Management Ltd, an engineering services company contracted by Siccar Point. 

A full media briefing on the Cambo oil field is available here – 

What is a CAN-ductor?

The only planned physical development in connection with the Cambo oil and gas field in 2021 is the installation of CAN-ductors on the site, in batches of three. They are installing three in August 2021 at three separate coordinates.

CAN-ductors are large steel cylinders that replace the need for a sub-sea top hole and they house the well head. They are installed by crane into the seabed and reduce the need for an oil rig to prepare the drill site so saves money and time for the operator of the project.

A description of how a CAN-ductor works is here.The Cambo field CAN-ductors measure approximately 17.5 m long, with a 6m diameter and a surface area of 28.3 sq m.

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