Energy & Environment

Greenpeace protest in the Arctic threatens to wreak environmental havoc this summer

Greenpeace protest in the Arctic threatens to wreak environmental havoc this summer
Greenpeace activists are headed to the Arctic this summer to protest oil and gas exploration but the environmentalists could inadvertently harm marine mammals and pollute the very environs they seek to protect, critics say.

The activists plan to shadow Royal Dutch Shell’s drilling ships in the coming weeks when they head into the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off the northern Alaskan coast to drill two exploratory wells.

Despite a restraining order by the U.S. District Court for Alaska directing Greenpeace not to come within a mile of Shell, the activists will rush into the fragile setting aboard a 237-foot ice-cutter with militaristic surveillance equipment, including an unmanned air drone and two submarines.

“These are really dicey operations and Shell will be working around the clock, and these extremists are running around with submarines and drones?” said Dan Kish, senior vice president of policy for the Institute for Energy Research. “Who is paying for this operation, North Korea?”

Serious safety issues

“They can cause serious safety issues, it’s just crazy,” Kish said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, have appealed to federal government agencies to determine whether the environmentalists’ activities are unlawful and likely to create unsafe conditions.

“Allowing intrusions by any group to disrupt or threaten federally permitted operations is a direct threat to the careful planning and safe operations necessary for these activities and puts in jeopardy those workers and our environment, as well as the subsistence interest of Alaska’s native peoples,” the lawmakers said in a July 11 letter to James Watson, director of the Safety and Environmental Enforcement Bureau of the Interior Department.

Shell underwent exhaustive federal reviews and permitting procedures to minimize noise so as not to disrupt marine mammals and reduce the discharge of pollutants.

Shell’s ships are in Dutch Harbor awaiting final approval for permits from the Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency and are planning to move the Noble Discoverer and the Kulluk into place in August.

“We believe it is of fundamental importance that our nation’s laws are applied fully and fairly to all, and that if you allow such actions to occur, disrupting or threatening these operations, it will put both worker and safety and the environment at risk,” the lawmakers said in a separate letter to Jane Lubchenco, undersecretary for oceans and atmosphere at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“It will also create conflicts with marine mammals and those who depend on them,” the lawmakers said.

Greenpeace is campaigning for the drilling areas to be certified as “global sanctuaries” to block energy production, and says their expedition will study the ocean habitat they believe is threatened by the offshore oil drilling as well as fishing fleets.

The submarines can dive to depths of 2,000 feet and are equipped with lasers, video cameras and robotic arms to retrieve samples to record the area before drilling begins.

Greenpeace defends its plan

“We’re headed to the Arctic to show how little is known about this pristine ecosystem before Shell’s rigs move in to destroy it,” said Jackie Dragon, the lead Arctic campaigner for Greenpeace USA.

“Instead of recognizing the grave warning of melting sea ice, Shell is planning to drill for more of the oil that caused the melting in the first place. We have to break this vicious cycle of corporate greed and work together to save the Arctic.”

Kish said the sea ice in the drilling area melts every year during the summer months, and called the activists hypocrites for using vast amounts of fuel to operate the ice class ship and several large rigid hull and inflatable boats in addition to the submarines and drone.

“These kids are running around having fun, using the most energy consuming industrial equipment on the sea, to protest the very people who are trying to find energy to run the Greenpeace boats,” Kish said.

Shell plays by the rules

Shell agreed to strict environmental rules while operating in the Arctic, including how to deal with walruses that crawl onto riggings, and to use only low sulfur fuel.

“I doubt Greenpeace will employ the same standards or cleaner burning fuel,” Kish said.

There are no ports or harbors near the enormous yet remote area between Alaska and Russia where the drilling will occur.

“It’s like going to the moon,” Kish said. “Everything you need, you better have with you. And guess who is going to have to pay if Greenpeace has a problem? The taxpayer.”

The Coast Guard will set up its summer Arctic operations nearly 100 miles away from the drilling operation in Barrow, Alaska with ships and helicopters to respond to emergencies at the drilling site.

Additionally, the Coast Guard will create a 500-meter “safety zone” around the drilling site at Shell’s request to protect its employees and to guard against any environmental damage caused by the protesters, according to a little-noticed post in the Federal Register last month.

“Shell Exploration & Production Company indicated that it is highly likely that any allusion or inability to identify, monitor or mitigate any risks or threats, including ice-related hazards that might be encountered, could result in a catastrophic event.

Incursions into the safety zone by unapproved vessels could degrade the ability to monitor and mitigate such risks,” the notice said.

“For any group or individual intending to conduct lawful demonstrations in the vicinity of the (ship), these demonstrations must be conducted outside the safety zone. Due to the remote location and the need to protect the environment, the Coast Guard may use criminal sanctions to enforce the safety zone as appropriate,” the notice said.

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