Shell files lawsuit against Arctic drilling protesters

WASHINGTON — Shell filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday seeking to kick six Greenpeace activists off one of its chosen Arctic drilling rigs and block the advocacy group from boarding more of its vessels.

The complaint, lodged in a federal district court in Alaska, comes one day after the activists grappled their way onto Shell’s contracted Polar Pioneer drillship while it traveled across the Pacific Ocean toward the United States.

Read more: Arctic activists scale Shell-contracted rig

Armed with food, hammocks, sleeping bags and other supplies, the protesters could remain camped out on the rig for days — using tweets, videos and pictures from the exercise to bolster a campaign against Shell’s plans to drill new wells in the Chukchi Sea north of Alaska this summer.

“The message is getting out there,” Greenpeace activists said on a website documenting the protest. “Shell’s oil rig should not be allowed anywhere near Arctic waters; it’s the wrong choice in the face of climate change, and an oil spill disaster waiting to happen. And we won’t let Shell silently slip into the Arctic.”

Greenpeace has said that the six protesters will not interfere with the navigation or operation of the rig and the heavy-lift vessel Blue Marlin that is carrying it across the Pacific Ocean.

But Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh insisted that “these acts are far from peaceful demonstrations.”

“Boarding a moving vessel on the high seas is extremely dangerous and jeopardizes the safety of all concerned, including both the people working aboard and the protesters themselves,” op de Weegh said. “While we recognize the right to voice an objection to our planned Alaska exploration program, we can’t condone Greenpeace’s unlawful and unsafe tactics.”

Greenpeace USA’s executive director, Annie Leonard, called the lawsuit “Shell’s latest attempt to keep people from standing up for the Arctic.”

“We know Shell can’t be trusted to drill in the Arctic; three years ago, the company nearly caused a major accident in Alaska, and this year it wants to go back and try again,” Leonard said. “Shell knows that if the government won’t stop it, then people around the world will raise their voices in protest. That’s why it’s hired an expensive army of lawyers and a PR team to keep what its doing secret.”

Greenpeace’s ship, Esperanza, has been trailing the Polar Pioneer for more than 20 days, after the rig left Malaysia in early March. The Polar Pioneer and Shell’s other contracted Arctic drillship, the Noble Discoverer, are both destined for ports in Washington, where they will make final preparations for the company’s planned drilling campaign this summer.

Shell won a similar court order in 2012 to keep protesters from encroaching on its rigs and support vessels, months after activists spent four days atop the derrick of the Noble Discoverer.

Read more: Shell wins court order against Greenpeace

Shell later asked the court to voluntarily dismiss the 2012 litigation after its Kulluk drilling unit ran aground on an Alaskan island and it became clear it would be awhile before the company resumed Arctic drilling operations.

The new lawsuit asks for an immediate injunction to protect Shell’s maritime vessels and other assets associated with its Arctic drilling campaign from “unlawful and unsafe interference by Greenpeace” while they are in transit to the Pacific Northwest, in port, traveling to the company’s oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea and conducting drilling operations north of Alaska.

In the petition, Shell says the six Greenpeace activists — including one from the United States — “willfully, recklessly and illegally … boarded the Blue Marlin on the high seas approximately 750 miles northwest of Hawaii and thereafter scaled and now illegally occupy the Polar Pioneer.” The actions showed “a callous disregard for the rights and safety of themselves and of others,” Shell says.

Shell notes that two Greenpeace members were injured when the Spanish Navy intercepted them last year near the Repsol oil ship Rowan Renaissance in a separate action.

Shell also describes the history of some of the activists now on board the Polar Pioneer, who hail from six different countries. The U.S. volunteer has reportedly been arrested at least twice in prior Greenpeace actions, Shell notes. And Shell says, Johno Smith, a 31-year-old from New Zealand, is a “self-identified contract climber and undercover ninja.”

The company tells the court that if Greenpeace’s activities are left unsanctioned, they will cause “irreparable harm” and monetary damages by delaying or preventing Shell from transporting its vessels, supplies and personnel to the Chukchi Sea for planned oil drilling during a few ice-free months this summer.

“Greenpeace is well aware that even short delays in the Arctic can stop exploration for the season,” Shell says in its lawsuit, “and has used that tactic successfully against other companies.”