On trial for challenging BP’s lust for oil in an age of climate change

Greenpeace is being put on trial for stopping a BP rig drilling for new oil wells. The penalties may be high, but this attempt to gag and bully those who expose the oil industry’s contribution to climate change won’t succeed.


In June 2019, Greenpeace climbers boarded an oil rig moored off the Scottish coast. The rig was getting ready to head out into the North Sea to drill for more oil, up to 30 million barrels of the stuff.

The climate crisis has been caused largely by companies like BP. We know we can’t burn much of the oil, gas and coal we already have. By striking out for yet more oil, BP is pushing us closer to the brink of complete climate breakdown.

The only way to prevent this oil coming out from beneath the sea was to halt the rig by occupying it. Even when BP got an injunction against Greenpeace in an attempt to bring an immediate end to the occupation, the activists carried on blocking the rig. This decision was taken not out of disregard for legal decisions coming from the courts, but because preventing more oil being found and burnt was more something we couldn’t give up on.

As a result, the owners of the rig – a company called Transocean – is taking Greenpeace to court for breaking the injunction. The potential penalties include large fines or even prison sentences.

The company secured a permanent injunction against Greenpeace on 31 December 2019, banning any protest against their activities indefinitely. But that hasn’t stopped Transocean – the company is continuing to pursue big fines and prison sentences for Greenpeace UK’s bosses.

As the company’s determination to punish climate activists shows, this case isn’t about big corporations seeking any kind of justice through the courts. It’s about shutting down opposition to BP and the oil industry as a whole.

Business as usual for BP

Instead of changing its business model to phase out oil and gas, BP is expected to spend $71 billion on extracting new oil and gas in the next 10 years. To put this vast amount into context, it’s more than the annual government revenue for most countries in the world.

And investment in developing renewable energy technologies is negligible. BP is using just 3% of their total investments on clean energy. At the same time, they are also spending millions on advertising to persuade the world they are reducing their impact on the climate.

BP says it’s abiding by the international Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emissions but, to be blunt, this is a lie. The company is relying on technology to capture and store carbon emissions that come from burning fossil fuels. But this technology doesn’t even really exist yet in any usable form, and there are no guarantees it will in the future.

Let’s not forget that BP, along with Transocean, was responsible for the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. In what was arguably the biggest environmental disaster in US history, millions of barrels of oil poured into the Gulf of Mexico. Marine and coastal ecosystems were devastated and local communities torn apart.

As the world changes around us, BP and the oil industry can no longer argue against ending the use of fossil fuels. Polar ice is rapidly disappearing, fires are raging from Australia to the Amazon, and storms are becoming more frequent and more intense all over the world. The effects of climate change are putting people’s lives at risk now, and fossil fuel companies are largely to blame.

Switch to clean energy or go under

Research has shown that just 20 companies, all of them in the fossil fuel trade, are responsible for a third of global emissions since 1965. BP is sixth in the list of most polluting companies. And for decades, these companies have known about their impact on our planet and concealed the evidence.

Companies like BP need to adapt to the realities of climate change and shift to developing renewable energy for a changing world. Instead, they have refused, and are resorting to injunctions and expensive legal cases to shut down anyone who challenges them.

This is because they understand that the only other option is to go out of business because their current business model no longer stands up. Switching to renewable energy is the only way they can stay in the game.

Despite the risk of fines or imprisonment for taking action against new oil exploration, the stakes are too high to hold back. The UK government isn’t doing anything to prevent BP pumping out even more oil and gas. Physically preventing a rig from drilling for oil is the only direct way to stop more oil coming out of the ground.

While BP is pumping out more oil and gas, Greenpeace will continue to block its operations – whatever the consequences.

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