Shell reversal credited to Lawless' group

LEIGHTON KEITH
Last updated 05:00 01/03/2013
Lucy Lawless protest

PROTEST ACTION: Actor Lucy Lawless and another Greenpeace activist during their February 2012 occupation of an Arctic-bound Shell drillship in Port Taranaki.

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Greenpeace claims Lucy Lawless' protest at Port Taranaki marked the beginning of the end for Shell's plans to drill in the Arctic.

Yesterday, Shell Alaska announced it would not conduct offshore drilling operations in the Alaska Arctic this year. The decision followed a series of weather problems and mechanical mishaps.

However, Greenpeace NZ executive director Bunny McDiarmid said Shell's problems began when Lawless and seven other activists boarded the Arctic bound drill ship Noble Discoverer, at Port Taranaki on February 24 last year, and scaled a 53-metre drilling derrick.

The group remained there for four days, delaying the ship's departure and bringing world-wide attention to Shell's plans to drill three exploratory oil wells in the Arctic.

Ms McDiarmid said Shell's multibillion-dollar Arctic investment was in tatters and so was the company's reputation.

"They massively underestimated the challenges posed by drilling off Alaska, and pushed on regardless, determined to spark a new Arctic oil rush," she said.

"The huge global movement that sprang up to oppose them started right here in New Zealand, when a small group of volunteers boarded a Shell-contracted drilling ship in Taranaki, to try and stop it heading for the Arctic."

The Los Angeles Times reported Shell spokesman Curtis Smith saying the decision to "pause" Arctic drilling during the ice-free months of the (northern) summer would allow the company to repair and retool its troubled rigs and prepare for future operations.

The programme has already cost the company nearly $5 billion.

Mr Smith said the company would continue to do offshore scientific research and conduct meetings with villagers across the North Slope in an attempt to keep the programme moving and ready for resumption "at a later stage".

"We will remain active in other areas as well and those plans will become more specific over time," he said.

In December, the 47-year-old Noble Discoverer was nailed by the US Coast Guard for serious discrepancies in its safety and pollution discharge equipment.

It was the latest incident in a long line of troubles stemming back to when it broke its mooring during a major storm while drilling off Taranaki in 2011.

Once the ship left Taranaki waters and sailed to the Arctic Circle it again slipped its moorings and came perilously close to running aground, bumping ashore in front of a big hotel, in July.

In November as it sat in an Alaskan port after it had completed drilling operations, an engine backfire in the rig stack caused a flash fire.

While Shell maintained it would resume its drilling programme in Alaska, Ms McDiarmid said Greenpeace would continue to fight the company at every step.

"Shell have dropped plans to drill this year, but when they try to head to the Arctic again, the millions of people who have backed the campaign to make this beautiful and special place off-limits for oil drilling will be waiting for them," she said.

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- Taranaki Daily News

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