Reporting from Seattle — With conflict brewing over Shell’s plans to begin exploratory drilling in the U.S. Arctic this summer, a federal judge in Anchorage has issued a temporary restraining order banning Greenpeace activists from launching operations against the company’s two drilling rigs.
U.S. District Judge Sharon L. Gleason on Thursday granted the oil company’s request for an order preventing activists from repeating their recent stunt off New Zealand, in which Greenpeace drilling opponents mounted the Noble Discoverer drilling rig and impeded its departure for North America.
“Other recent and past actions confirm Greenpeace’s intent to do what it takes to prevent Shell from carrying out its Arctic exploration drilling program and, more broadly, to ‘kick the oil companies out of the Arctic,’” Royal Dutch Shell lawyers said in their motion.
Any attempt by small boats or renegade divers to impede the towing of the massive drilling rig into the sometimes turbulent and icy waters of the Arctic Ocean could be “extremely dangerous and possibly life-threatening,” the company argued.
Gleason’s order prevents Greenpeace staffers and supporters from interfering with the operation of either drilling rig in U.S. waters and orders them not to barricade or trespass onto the vessels.
“The record demonstrates that staging efforts for these two vessels for the 2012 summer drilling season are currently underway, and that disruption by Greenpeace activists of those staging efforts would likely harm Shell’s drilling activities,” the judge wrote.
But the ruling stopped short of granting a “safety zone” around Shell’s Arctic operations. Nor did it enjoin Greenpeace USA actions against all of Shell’s U.S. operations. Those requests, the court said, would have to be argued further in court later.
“The judge rejected most of Shell’s heavy-handed lawsuit, but too much still remains. This was one of the broadest attacks on peaceful protest we’ve seen in years, and we’re still left with a restraining order against an entirely peaceful organization that was not even involved in the actions at the core of Shell’s complaint,” Greenpeace USA deputy campaign director Dan Howells said in a statement.
Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith said it was “unfortunate” that the company had to go to court to protect its property.
“We don't want a repeat of last week's illegal boarding that not only jeopardized the safety of the Noble Discoverer's crew, but the protesters as well,” he said. “We're always open to an honest discussion about the challenges and benefits of working in the Arctic, but we can't condone the unlawful and unsafe tactics Greenpeace resorted to in New Zealand."
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