Shell on Wednesday won a court order barring environmental activists from boarding or blocking the ships it will use to launch exploratory drilling in Arctic waters this summer.
The injunction, issued by a federal district court in Alaska, expands the scope of an earlier restraining order that blocked Greenpeace activists from interfering with operations on Shell’s two chosen drillships through March. The new order, which runs through the end of October, applies to Greenpeace activists targeting those drillships as well as support vessels Shell plans to use for the work.
Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh said the company hoped “to avoid a repeat of the recent illegal boardings” of drillships headed to the Chukchi and Beaufort seas near Alaska.
Six Greenpeace activists — including actress Lucy Lawless — were arrested in February after they boarded the drillship Noble Discoverer to protest the planned Arctic drilling. The ship was preparing to leave New Zealand for the Chukchi Sea.
“Such action not only jeopardized the safety of the crews aboard Shell’s Arctic-bound vessels, but it puts at risk the safety of the protestors at well,” op de Weegh said.
U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason found that Shell would suffer irreparable harm from likely protests by Greenpeace activists and said she was persuaded that the actions would “present unacceptable risks to human life, property and the environment.”
The court stopped short of issuing an order that would block Greenpeace from interfering with Shell’s facilities on land or in other U.S. waters.
In a statement, Greenpeace Deputy Campaign Director Dan Howells said the group will “continue to oppose Arctic drilling peacefully and vigorously.”
Howells called Shell’s move to preempt protests in the Arctic tantamount to “legal bullying because they’re scared of public opinion.”
Shell is hoping to drill four wells in the Beaufort Sea and six in the Chukchi Sea over the next two years, beginning after the ice clears this summer.
Shell has pledged to have emergency equipment on hand in case of an emergency, including a system for trapping and siphoning gushing crude from a blown-out subsea well. Shell also told federal regulators it would use two drill ships in the region, ensuring one would be on hand to drill a relief well if necessary.
But environmentalists insist too little is known about how to clean up oil from slushy, icy waters. They say the region is too precious to risk a potentially devastating oil spill.