Greenpeace boards rig heading for Norway’s northernmost drilling site

By Mikael Holter
Bloomberg News

Activists from environmental group Greenpeace boarded a Statoil ASA (STL) rig en route to drill Norway’s northernmost exploration well in the Barents Sea, saying it’s too close to the polar ice cap and a key nature reserve.

The Transocean Spitsbergen rig won’t resume its voyage to the Apollo prospect in the Hoop area or start drilling until about 10 activists have left the vessel, which is owned by Transocean Ltd. (RIG), Statoil spokesman Oerjan Heradstveit said.

“The action has so far been peaceful, but it’s still an irresponsible and illegal action,” Heradstveit said by mobile phone. “It’s too early to say” if the drilling that’s scheduled for the end of the month will be delayed, he said.

Statoil, Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA) and other explorers are meeting obstacles from environmental groups, politicians and courts as they seek to tap oil and gas resources in the Arctic to make up for dwindling reserves in areas like the North Sea. Norway sees the Barents Sea as key to maintaining production after a 20 percent drop over the past decade. The area holds more than 40 percent of the country’s undiscovered resources, according to the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate.

Photos: Drilling protesters arrested after scaling London’s tallest tower

“We’ll only leave the rig voluntarily after Statoil has promised it won’t drill,” Greenpeace program manager for Norway Truls Gulowsen said by phone from Oslo. “This area is too vulnerable, and an oil spill would drift in the wrong direction, so we can’t allow drilling.”

Greenpeace complaint

In 2011, Greenpeace impeded a drilling campaign in Greenland. Last year, about 30 Greenpeace activists were arrested and charged with piracy by Russia when they boarded an OAO Gazprom (GAZP) platform in the Pechora Sea, the first to pump oil in the country’s Arctic waters. Dutch police arrested about 30 activists this month in Rotterdam as they tried to prevent a tanker from delivering the first crude from Gazprom’s platform.

State-controlled Statoil’s approval to drill the Hoop well was suspended last week pending the examination of a Greenpeace complaint by Norway’s Climate and Environment Ministry. The ministry has allowed Statoil to start operations while it studies the complaint, though it can’t drill in oil-bearing layers, the Stavanger-based company said Monday.

Photos: Police break Greenpeace blockade on Russian tanker

Statoil is planning three wells in the Hoop area this year, of which Apollo is Norway’s northernmost ever.

Norway’s government should stop operations in the Hoop area because an oil spill could have catastrophic consequences for the nearby Bear Island nature reserve and the edge of the polar ice cap, Greenpeace said in last week’s complaint.

Statoil says it’s prepared to handle a spill even though it’s a “very unlikely” event.

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