Shell Oil Co. on Wednesday won a court battle that would keep activists for Greenpeace USA off Alaska-bound ships intended for offshore drilling in Arctic waters.
The preliminary injunction against Greenpeace comes in the wake of two high-profile occupations of ships owned or contracted by Shell Oil. The first, which took place in late February, saw a group of protesters -- a group that included former "Xena: Warrior Princess" star Lucy Lawless -- board a drill ship in New Zealand and occupy it three days before being arrested for burglary.
That ship was bound for the Chukchi Sea in the far north of Alaska, where Shell expects to begin exploratory drilling for offshore oil this summer.
Earlier this month, a group of about 40 protestors in Helsinki, Finland, boarded icebreaking vessels contracted to Shell that were similarly Alaska-bound.
The new injunction came as a temporary restraining order against Greenpeace expired, and represents a sweeping protective measure for Alaska-bound ships operating for Shell, including a kilometer of "safety zone" around the two main drilling vessels that will be used in the Arctic. Other support vessels will have a 500-meter safety zone.
The zone will apply within all U.S. territorial waters -- a range of 12 nautical miles offshore -- and a Greenpeace press release said that U.S. District Court judge Sharon Gleason is considering whether to extend that protection to the Economic Exclusion Zone, a range of 200 miles offshore.
The injunction came against Greenpeace USA, but Greenpeace based part of its defense on the fact that the action in New Zealand was taken by Greenpeace New Zealand, a "separate legal entity," according to Greenpeace.
Greenpeace blasted the decision, saying there was a "clear legal argument" against the injunction.
"Greenpeace is just one part of a growing movement which will continue to oppose Arctic drilling peacefully and vigorously this year and in the future," Greenpeace deputy campaign director Dan Howells said in a statement. "This desperate drilling program will do nothing to bring down gas prices in the US, but everything to endanger America's last true wilderness and play havoc with our climate."
Shell praised the decision, saying that it would allow their crew and vessels to carry out their jobs while minimizing risks.
"We are pleased the judge recognized the risk posed by Greenpeace's illegal activities and entered the preliminary injunction," a statement from Shell Alaska said. "Our goal is to avoid a repeat of the recent illegal boardings that took place in New Zealand and Finland that not only jeopardized the safety of the crews aboard Shell's Arctic-bound vessels but the protestors as well. While we recognize the right to peacefully protest Shell's Alaska drilling plan, we can't condone Greenpeace's illegal and unsafe tactics."
"We're taking all the precautions we can to keep our crews safe and our vessels out of harm's way," Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said, "and that's what this injunction represents."
Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com