Cairn awaits ruling in case against Arctic protesters

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 07, 2011 7:08 PM
Cairn awaits ruling in case against Arctic protesters

By Sarah Young

LONDON (Reuters) - Cairn Energy expects to find out later on Wednesday whether a lawsuit designed to deter environmental protesters from disrupting its Arctic drilling campaign has been successful.

Cairn, a British oil and gas firm which is leading a charge to find oil off the coast of Greenland, faces strong opposition from environmental group Greenpeace whose protesters have boarded its drilling vessel twice in recent weeks.

Protesters are trying to delay drilling operations, which must take place during a narrow summer window due to harsh weather in the Arctic region.

Cairn wants a court in the Netherlands to grant an injunction against Greenpeace which would see the group fined up to 2 million euros a day if its members cause further disruption to the company's activities in Greenland.

Greenpeace, which objects to oil exploration in the Arctic because it believes that cleaning up a spill in the remote sea would be very difficult, said it staged its most recent protest to demand a copy of the oil spill response plan Cairn has prepared for drilling in Greenland.

The environmental group is making access to the spill response plan a key issue of its protest.

It lodged a complaint with the Greenlandic parliament on Monday detailing parts of the plan which it asked to see but to which it had been refused access.

The publication of oil spill response plans for the Gulf of Mexico at the height of the BP oil spill last summer caused embarrassment for the oil industry when these showed companies had offered overly optimistic assessments of how they would tackle spills.

Cairn said it was up to Greenland to make the spill document public.

"As stipulated by Greenland Authorities, the oil spill response documents are not publicly available," said a Cairn spokesman.

In both the UK and Norway, oil spill response plans are available on public request, respective spokesmen for the UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Norwegian Coastal Administration told Reuters.

Cairn is planning to drill up to four wells in Greenland this summer after it first started exploring off the west coast of Greenland last year, making it the first company to do so for a decade.

Greenpeace said if it was permitted access to the spill response plan its next move would be to have the plan independently analyzed to assess its robustness.

Cairn filed the lawsuit in the Dutch courts because two of Greenpeace's ships, the MS Esperanza and the MS Arctic Sunrise, are both registered in the Netherlands.

The Esperanza is currently situated near to the rig being used by Cairn in Greenland, the Leiv Eiriksson, while the Arctic Sunrise is bound for Canada, Greenpeace said.

Cairn and Greenpeace both said they expected the Dutch court to rule on the case on Wednesday afternoon.

(Additional reporting by Tom Bergin; Editing by Jane Merriman)