Greenpeace fined £80K over BP oil rig protest but legal battle to stop BP drilling continues

Greenpeace UK has been fined £80k for breaching a court interdict during a protest against a BP oil rig in the North Sea last summer. But campaigners are still challenging BP's drilling permit in the courts. The oil giant plans to drill a major new well giving it access to up to 30 million barrels of oil.


  • Greenpeace UK protest blocked BP’s oil rig for 12 days in June last year.
  • £80K fine imposed after lawyers for BP’s rig operator called for “coercive” penalty. 
  • Greenpeace will now press on with legal challenge to cancel BP’s oil drilling permit.
  • It is the first time a North Sea oil permit has ever been challenged in Scotland.

Pictures of Greenpeace’s 2019 BP rig action can be found here

GREENPEACE UK has been landed with a huge fine over its protest to block a BP oil rig from drilling new wells in the North Sea.

In a virtual hearing held via web link, Judge Lady Wolffe today [FRI 3]  imposed an £80,000 fine after finding Greenpeace guilty of breaching a court interdict taken out by BP’s rig operator Transocean.

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: “We are disappointed that BP’s rig operator Transocean has sought to punish us for trying to protect the planet.

“But our campaign does not end here and we will continue to fight to stop the oil industry from wrecking our climate.

“We stand by our reasons for taking action to stop BP’s reckless drilling, which is driving us deeper into the climate emergency.

“We will now press on with our challenge to get BP’s permit completely quashed so that BP cannot drill for new oil in the North Sea and further wreck our climate”

Greenpeace argued its actions were necessary to prevent BP from exacerbating the climate crisis by extracting 30 million barrels of oil from new oil wells in the North Sea’s Vorlich field.

At the last hearing in February, Transocean’s representative, Jonathan Barne QC, argued before Lady Wolffe that the function of penalties is to be “coercive”. Mr Barne warned that a lenient penalty could encourage organisations “less safe than Greenpeace” to breach court orders in future, for example at the UN’s Glasgow climate summit now to be held in 2021.

Greenpeace has since successfully challenged BP’s drilling permit in the High Court, where the government admitted the process of awarding BP’s permit was unlawful, which opens up the permit to further legal challenge.

In today’s ruling Lady Wolffe decided not to impose a prison sentence or suspended sentence, but fined Greenpeace £80,000 for breaching the interdict. Greenpeace will also be required to pay Transocean’s legal costs, once Transocean has filed its claim to the court.

Greenpeace has now launched a second legal bid to get BP’s drilling permit cancelled altogether. It is the first time a North Sea oil permit has ever been challenged in Scotland.

If Greenpeace’s legal challenge is successful, this could prevent BP from extracting oil from the Vorlich field and would set a precedent meaning that the government would be forced to consider the harmful impact on the climate before awarding any new drilling permits in the future.

Since last year’s rig protest and the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the landscape of the oil and gas industry has changed dramatically. The price of oil has plummeted and BP’s chief executive Bernard Looney has acknowledged that we may have reached peak oil demand and has admitted that some of the company’s oil reserves may be left in the ground.

In recent weeks BP has cut 10,000 jobs and written down assets by £14bn.

Mr Looney has launched a net-zero strategy, with more detail promised in September. But leaked documents suggest that BP’s climate plan centres on natural gas, which remains a high-carbon fossil fuel and further exacerbates the climate emergency, and on carbon capture storage technologies, which Mr Looney admits “don’t exist” yet.


John Sauven, Executive Director of Greenpeace UK is available for interview via Skype, Facetime or ISDN.

Contact Greenpeace press office: 020 7865 8255 /


Read more about this court case, and Greenpeace’s legal challenges of BP’s permits here.

Previously reported contempt of court fines in the Scottish Courts

In criminal law, the Daily Record newspaper was fined £80,000 in 2018 for breaching the Contempt of Court Act 1981.

The Transocean v Greenpeace case is brought in the common law. In 2017 under the common law an Edinburgh pub landlord was fined £3,500 for showing Sky Sports, in breach of an interdict.

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