Shell wins restraining order against Greenpeace

WASHINGTON — Hours after stormy weather forced Greenpeace activists to climb off an Arctic drilling rig in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Shell won a temporary restraining order blocking the group from similar protests.

The ruling, by U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason, bars Greenpeace and its activists from boarding, barricading or interfering with the movement of the drillship Noble Discoverer, the drilling rig Polar Pioneer or the heavy-lift vessel Blue Marlin.

Gleason stopped short of granting Shell Oil Co.’s request for a broader temporary restraining order that also would bar Greenpeace from encroaching on other support vessels that make up the company’s large Arctic drilling fleet, though the judge will consider the issue — and whether a permanent injunction is warranted — during an April 28 hearing in Anchorage.

Greenpeace activists scaled the Shell-contracted Polar Pioneer to protest Arctic drilling on April 6, as the Blue Marlin heaved the rig about 750 miles northeast of Hawaii en route to the Pacific Northwest.

Read more: Arctic activists scale Shell-contracted rig

Shell plans on stationing its drilling rigs and other ships in waters around Washington state while it prepares for a new round of exploratory oil drilling in the Chukchi Sea this summer, three years after its last attempt ended with the grounding of another rig along Alaska’s Sitkalidak Island.

Gleason agreed with the company’s assertion that the just-halted Greenpeace protest on the high seas — and other threatened actions — could irreparably harm Shell, potentially delaying or derailing the company’s Arctic drilling opportunity this summer, which is already limited to about three months when waters are free of ice.

“Greenpeace USA’s role in perpetuating the presence of activists aboard the Polar Pioneer creates a likelihood of immediate irreparable harm to Shell,” Gleason said. “Individuals that have climbed on to a vessel in the middle of the ocean with the express intention to stop Arctic drilling would appear likely to cause disruption and delay of the vessels intended for the summer drilling program.”

Greenpeace lawyers unsuccessfully argued that the Alaska-based federal district court was the wrong venue for Shell’s complaint, in part because Greenpeace International — not Greenpeace USA — was behind the Polar Pioneer boarding and because the actions unfolded outside of U.S. territorial waters.

Related story: Feds launch review of Shell’s Arctic drilling plan

The group also argued that an injunction would unduly restrict Greenpeace’s First Amendment right “to observe, comment on and protest Shell’s activity.”

In applauding the ruling, Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh stressed that the protests are unsafe for the activists and crew alike.

“We don’t want a repeat of previous illegal stunts — including the group’s illegal boarding on the Polar Pioneer drilling rig — this month,” op de Weegh said. “These tactics are not peaceful protests; they jeopardize the safety of the people working on board and the protesters themselves, especially aboard a moving vessel at sea.”

Greenpeace said in a statement that it would be “prepared for further legal arguments at the preliminary injunction hearing on April 28.”

“We remain proud of the courageous efforts undertaken this week by the international team of volunteer climbers which helped the movement to save the Arctic grow even stronger,” the group said.

The six activists who spent days camped out on the Polar Pioneer say their quest against Shell’s Arctic drilling plans isn’t over. An online appeal for other ideas on “what to do next,” has yielded dozens of responses, including a suggestion that protesters use a flotilla of canoes and kayaks to keep drilling rigs and other vessels from leaving Washington state waters.

Gleason Ruling on TRO-110415

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