Arctic-Drilling Protesters Board Shell’s Oil Rig in Pacific

Greenpeace, the environmental activists who have protested Arctic drilling from Greenland to Russia in the last few years, occupied a Royal Dutch Shell Plc oil rig in the Pacific in their latest effort to stop drilling in Alaska.

The protest comes after U.S. authorities confirmed Shell’s exploration lease in Alaska, potentially clearing the way for a resumption of a program that was halted in 2012 after setbacks including a stranded rig and legal challenges.

Six activists were onboard the Transocean Ltd.-owned Polar Pioneer rig Tuesday after approaching in inflatable boats and scaling the platform in international waters 750 miles (1,207 kilometers) northwest of Hawaii. Shell, which has spent $6 billion on Alaska exploration over eight years, said earlier this year it plans to resume drilling in 2015, even as a plunge in crude prices led oil explorers to review their ambitions.

“We respect their views and value the dialogue,” Shell wrote in an e-mailed statement. “We will not, however, condone the illegal tactics employed by Greenpeace. Nor will we allow these stunts to distract from preparations under way to execute a safe and responsible exploration program.”

The Shell rig is crossing the Pacific to take part in a potential drilling campaign in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea this year, Kayla Macke, a spokeswoman for The Hague-based company, said by e-mail.

Greenpeace Activism

“We plan to have these six people onboard as long as it’s safe for them to remain there,” Greenpeace’s Laura Kenyon said by telephone from a boat nearby the rig. Shell’s plan to drill off Alaska is “basically a disaster waiting to happen.”

Greenpeace activists have since 2010 boarded rigs twice offshore Greenland, twice offshore Russia, once in Norway’s Arctic Barents Sea and once at a yard in the Netherlands, the group’s head of operations in Norway, Truls Gulowsen, said in a phone interview. While none of these operations have led to significant delays in operations by companies including Statoil ASA, OAO Gazprom and Cairn Energy Plc, they aim to highlight the dangers of Arctic oil drilling, he said.

“If we drill in 2015, it will be a two-rig program in the Chukchi Sea only,” Shell’s Macke said. “The execution of that plan remains contingent on achieving the necessary permits, legal certainty and our own determination that we are prepared to explore safely and responsibly.”

Polar Pioneer

The Greenpeace activists approached the Polar Pioneer, which is being transported by the Blue Marlin heavy-lift vessel, in inflatable boats and scaled the platform with climbing gear without halting or slowing down the vessel, Kenyon said. They have set up a camp under the rig’s main deck, and aren’t interfering with operations onboard, she said.

Shell said the Greenpeace protesters illegally boarded the rig, jeopardizing their safety as well as that of the crew. The company said it has met with critics of oil exploration off Alaska.

Russia arrested 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists who boarded an oil platform in the Pechora Sea in September 2013 before offering them amnesty three months later after mounting international pressure to drop charges of hooliganism.

Shell rose 3.7 percent to 2,099 pence at 3:35 p.m. in London, mirroring the 4.5 percent gain in the STOXX 600 Oil & Gas Index after prices for benchmark Brent crude climbed the past two days. Oil is still trading just above $58 a barrel, about half of its June high of $115.

Arctic Review

Lower crude prices have led oil companies to review Arctic plans as they tighten spending. Statoil in December relinquished three licenses off Greenland, and last month delayed the Johan Castberg development in Norway for a third time. It also said it won’t drill in the Barents Sea this year.

“Despite other companies pulling back, Shell is pushing forward in Alaska,” Greenpeace’s Kenyon said. “It’s actually really frustrating to watch these kinds of huge investments going into projects like Arctic oil drilling, which aren’t compatible with addressing climate change.”

The Arctic accounts for more than 20 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas resources, including an estimated 134 billion barrels of crude and other liquids and 1,669 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

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