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Federal Court Upholds Greenpeace Injunction for Shell Operations

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The U.S. Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling that environmental group Greenpeace must stay away from Shell's offshore Alaska drilling operations.

The court upheld the ruling by the U.S. District Court for Alaska, concluding that Shell had shown "a likelihood of success on the merits of its claim that Greenpeace USA would commit tortuous or illegal acts against Shell's Arctic drilling operations in the absence of an injunction" and that the resulting harm would be irreparable.

Prior to the start of its Arctic Alaska drilling campaign, Shell initially filed in U.S. District Court in Alaska for a temporary restraining order, and then a preliminary injunction, to prevent Greenpeace USA from coming within a specified distance of vessels involved in Shell's Arctic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) exploration and from committing various "unlawful and tortious acts" against those vessels.

Shell argued that Greenpeace activists used illegal direct action to interfere with legal oil drilling activities on a number of occasions, according to the court filing. These acts include boarding vessels to try and halt drilling activities. In May 2010, Greenpeace USA activists boarded the Harvey Explorer, a vessel Shell had contracted to use for Arctic OCS operations. The vessel was in the Gulf of Mexico at the time when activists boarded the vessel, painting slogans and unfurling banners.

The injunction expired Oct. 31, 2012, the last day of the 2012 Arctic Ocean open water season.

Greenpeace USA, which has undertaken a public campaign to halt Shell's Arctic drilling plans, challenged the injunction, arguing that the dispute did not present a justiciable case or controversy, that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to issue its order, that Shell had sued the wrong Greenpeace entity, and that the court erred in its application of Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council.

Greenpeace USA and the websites of virtually all Greenpeace organizations have featured a campaign to stop Shell, according to the court filing.

Shell also presented evidence to the lower court of Greenpeace activists illegally boarding and holding protests on Shell-operated vessels. In February 2012, activists boarded the Noble Discoverer (mid-water drillship), which had stopped offshore New Zealand on its way to the Arctic. The Noble Discoverer is one of two rigs that Shell has used for drilling offshore Alaska.

In March of that year, Greenpeace activists also boarded Shell's Nordica and Fennica ice break support vessels, which were in port in Finland at the time. Greenpeace members in May 2012 twice boarded and occupied the Nordica as it moved through Swedish and Danish waters. Activists chained themselves to the vessel, dropped weights and other objects in the water to block the vessel, and created a human blockade using divers.
Greenpeace activists have also sought to halt Arctic drilling operations in Greenland. In 2010 and 2011, activists boarded an oil rig offshore Greenland, trying to stop Cairn Energy from conducting OCS oil and gas exploration activities.

The court noted that Greenpeace USA does not dispute evidence that its own activists carried out the attack on Shell's Harvey Explorer.

"And, although the record does not make clear which Greenpeace entity was directly responsible for multiple attacks on Cairn Energy vessels in the Arctic Ocean."

The court noted that Greenpeace USA's executive director essentially took credit for the Cairn attacks, describing the perpetrators as "our activists" and boasting that Cairn didn't find oil in 2010 as a direct result of Greenpeace's direct action.



Karen Boman has more than 10 years of experience covering the upstream oil and gas sector. Email Karen at kboman@rigzone.com.

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