Greenpeace has labelled as illegal an attempt by Norwegian authorities to impose a safety zone around a drill zone where a Statoil-contracted rig is planning to spud a wildcat in Arctic waters.
The environmental watchdog has accused state-controlled player Statoil of failing to give due notice of the imposition of the zone where the semi-submersible Transocean Spitzbergen is headed to drill the Apollo prospect in the Hoop area of the Barents Sea.
The Greenpeace vessel Esperanza is currently occupying the drill location, as the group steps up its campaign against oil exploration in the Arctic.
That followed the removal by police early on Thursday morning of seven activists who remained on the rig after a 48-hour protest and were subsequently released without charge after being airlifted to Tromso. Eight others who had occupied the semi-submersible unit after boarding it early on Tuesday had earlier abandoned the protest due to extreme cold in the Arctic region.
On Friday Greenpeace lashed out at the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum’s decision to impose a safety zone, something the group immediately lodged an appeal against.
“Greenpeace maintains that the zone cannot be applied as Statoil has failed to follow rules of notification,” it said.
“Under international law, ‘due notice’ must be given for the establishment of a safety zone.”
Greenpeace said that, in the first instance, Norwegian law dictates that the operator must provide ‘public announcement well in advance of the establishment of a safety zone’, which is specified to be at least 30 days ahead of time.”
It continued: “Neither the notification nor the public announcement has taken place.”
Greenpeace International legal counsel Daniel Simons argued: “There is no reason why the Esperanza should have to make way for oil companies to drill here because of the abrupt and irregular declaration of a safety zone.
“Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, foreign vessels enjoy freedom of navigation through the Exclusive Economic Zone.
“We certainly have as much right to be here as companies drilling for Arctic oil.”
The environmental group believes a potential oil spill from the Apollo well would pose a significant risk to the Bear Island nature reserve 175 kilometres to the north and could also encroach on the Arctic ice edge.
Sune Scheller, Arctic campaigner on board the Esperanza said: “We are conducting a peaceful protest against the madness of Arctic Oil. It goes against everything we know from climate science, is extremely risky and an oil spill here would be close to impossible to clean up so close to Bear Island.”
Statoil has defended the drilling effort, stating the Apollo prospect is farther from Bear Island than most Norwegian oilfields are from land.
“The probability of an oil spill happening is extremely low, since there are robust plans in place for the operation, and we are operating in familiar waters,” the company said.
It claimed there is “a very low probability of an oil spill... and an extremely low risk of a spillage reaching Bear Island”, based on the results of trajectory studies.
“If an oil spill were to occur, the first oil booms [NOFO system] would be on the water in less than two hours, and more systems would be mobilised rapidly,” Statoil added.
The state-owned explorer aims to drill two further wildcats this summer at the nearby Atlantis and Mercury prospects using the same rig.