Cairn Energy has been forced to suspend its operations on one of its rigs in the Arctic after four Greenpeace campaigners scaled the rig early on Tuesday morning in a bid to stall oil drilling in the region.
The UK oil and gas explorer has plans to drill four wells in the waters of Baffin Bay Basin, off Greenland’s west coast, but the recent BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has raised fears over the risks of offshore drilling.
Cairn announced last week that its first well had shown evidence of hydrocarbons.
A Greenpeace ship, the Esperanza, has been in a stand-off with the Danish navy off Greenland for the past few days. Many environmentalists argue that Arctic drilling is fraught with risks, from drifting icebergs to hostile weather, but as oil companies scramble to find new reserves around the world to meet demand its reserves have caught they eye of the industry.
Wood Mackenzie, a consultancy, estimates there could be 20bn barrels of oil and gas in Greenland – part of the Arctic-wide reserves the US Geological Survey believes could account for a quarter of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas.
Greenpeace said: “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.”
Greenland’s government has hit back at the campaigners, describing the move as “an illegal act, ignoring the rules of democracy”.
“The ongoing drilling has therefore stopped and once again Greenpeace has succeeded in stopping the possibilities for Greenland in the effort to secure the economical basis for living conditions for people”, said Kuupik Kleist, Greenland’s premier.
“The cabinet regards Greenpeace’s action as very serious and an illegal attack on the country’s constitutional rights. It is worrying that Greenpeace, in their hunt for media exposure, violate security rules made to protect human lives and the environment…Following an intensive inspection programme, is it clear that Cairn’s drilling programme has been conducted to very high standards of safety. All regulatory requirements have been followed conscientiously and the Cabinet has full confidence in Cairn’s activities in Greenland.”
For Cairn, any delay is certainly unwelcome given the upcoming winter. This interruption may only be temporary this time but expect more protests over the coming weeks.