Nothing like the words “Arctic” and “oil drilling” to get the environmental campaigners excited.
Add banks to the mix, and you have the perfect mix for a modern day witch-hunt.
The latest targets are Cairn Energy and the Royal Bank of Scotland. In a joint press release, PLATFORM, Friends of the Earth Scotland and the World Development Movement on Tuesday said they “condemn [the] link between public money and Cairn’s Arctic drilling – RBS provided loan to oil company one month before it acquired rig for arctic drilling.”
The amount in question is a reported $100m lent by RBS – majority owned by UK taxpayers – last December.
The (first) problem with their point, however, is that RBS is a corporate broker to Cairn -so the $100m is likely to be just a fraction of the total it lent to the oil company last year. There seems to be no evidence to show that this particular $100m and the Arctic drilling are linked.
Secondly, the environmentalists’ outrage at taxpayer money financing oil drilling bizarrely stops with the Arctic. Drilling in Rajasthan – where Cairn in fact gets most of its oil – doesn’t seem to be a problem. Yet why is it less acceptable to drill near barely-populated frozen landmass than in the middle of India, where actual people may be affected by the drilling operations?
Maybe because polar bears are much cuter than people?
Ben Amunwa from Platform then raises the issue of a potential spill and Cairn’s relatively small financial fire power to tackle it. He asks:
“Could this potentially leave the fledgling Greenland government footing the bill?”
Don’t know. But if you got the impression that Cairn is in the Arctic uninvited, here‘s Kuupik Kleist, Greenland’s PM, with Mike Watts, Cairn’s deputy chief executive, on board the company’s Stena Forth drillship last month, looking pretty keen.
The whole protest is futile, mainly because it misses the crucial point. Why is all this is happening? Because consumers want oil, and they want it more than they care about the arctic or any other part of the world except their back yard.
According to Juliet Swann, head of projects and campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland:
Taxpayers money is essentially being used to destroy a pristine environment for private economic gain.
In reality, banks are making loans to oil companies, to be returned with interest, because consumers, as a group, prefer to pay for oil than any of its alternative. That makes the oil sector a very profitable one for the (taxpayer-owned) banks.
But of course it’s always easier to blame the bankers.