Greenpeace activists shut down offshore drilling by a British oil company at a controversial site in the Arctic after four climbers began an occupation of the rig just after dawn on Tuesday.
Greenland’s prime minister has accused Greenpeace of threatening the safety of oil workers and the environment by forcing the rig to shut down.
The campaigners said the four protesters evaded a flotilla of armed Danish navy and police boats, which have been guarding the rigs in Baffin Bay off Greenland since the Greenpeace protest ship Esperanza arrived last week.
The rigs are operated by the Edinburgh-based oil exploration company Cairn Energy, which last week prompted worldwide alarm among environmentalists after disclosing it had found the first evidence of oil or gas deposits under the Arctic.
Several multinational oil companies, including Exxon, Chevron and Shell, are waiting for Greenland’s permission to begin deep-sea drilling in the Arctic’s pristine waters.
Campaigners fear a dangerous rush to exploit one of the world’s last major untapped reserves in one of its most fragile locations.
The United States Geological Survey last year estimated there may be 90-billion barrels of oil and 50-trillion cubic metres of gas across the Arctic.
The campaign group said: “At dawn this morning our expert climbers in inflatable speedboats dodged Danish Navy commandos before climbing up the inside of the rig and hanging from it in tents suspended from ropes, halting its drilling operation.
“The climbers have enough supplies to occupy the hanging tents for several days. If they succeed in stopping drilling for just a short time then the operators, Britain’s Cairn Energy, will struggle to meet a tight deadline to complete the exploration before winter ice conditions force it to abandon the search for oil off Greenland until next year.”
The occupation comes after a nine-day standoff between Greenpeace and the Danish navy, which has sent its frigate Vaedderen to the area, deploying elite Danish commandos on high-speed boats to patrol a 500m exclusion zone around the rigs.
Two weeks ago week the Danes warned the Esperanza it would be forcibly boarded and its captain arrested if it breached the security zone. After Greenpeace launched its helicopter to take photographs, the security area was extended to include a 1 800m high air exclusion zone.
Greenpeace argues the Arctic drilling programme is extremely perilous because of the sea ice and intense weather conditions in the region, and claims it is one of the 10 most dangerous drilling sites in the world. The Baffin Bay area is known as “iceberg alley”.
Last week, it filmed a support vessel trying to break up an iceberg using high pressure hoses.
It says the risks posed by this operation go “far beyond” the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico; in the Arctic an oil spill would destroy the region’s vulnerable and untouched habitats, while the cold water would prevent any oil from quickly breaking up. Any emergency operation to tackle a disaster would encounter huge technical and logistical problems in such a remote area. —