New Zealand actor Lucy Lawless — star of hit US TV show Spartacus and Xena: Warrior Princess — joined Greenpeace activists from NZ, the UK and Spain in stopping a Shell-contracted oil drillship from departing New Zealand for the Arctic, where its exploratory oil drilling programme threatens to devastate the Alaskan coastline.
Lucy Lawless boarded the Noble Discoverer as a member of the Greenpeace team, scaled the drillship’s derrick and occupied it along with six other climbers.
“I’m blocking Shell’s Arctic drillship because I believe passionately that renewable energy is the way of the future,” said Lucy Lawless. “We don’t have to go to the ends of the earth to suck out every last drop of oil. Instead we need to smarten up and begin the transition to a clean, green, sustainable energy future and right now that means keeping Shell out of the Arctic.”
The Noble Discoverer, scheduled to drill three exploratory oil wells this summer in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska, was blocked from leaving the port of Taranaki for its 6,000 nautical mile journey by Greenpeace New Zealand activists who boarded the vessel and occupied the drilling derrick, equipped with enough supplies to last for several days.
“We have taken action today to stop Shell from drilling in the Arctic, where an oil spill would devastate the fragile environment, and be impossible to clean up,” said Greenpeace New Zealand climate campaigner Nathan Argent, from outside the Port of Taranaki. “Shell must keep the Noble Discoverer in port, or risk a catastrophe in Alaska worse than the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Shell is the first major international oil company to make exploitation of the Arctic a major focus. If the Noble Discoverer strikes oil this summer, other global oil giants will quickly follow and spark an Arctic oil rush. Earlier this week, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement approved Shell’s Oil Spill Response Plan for the Chukchi Sea. It included devices for cleaning up a spill—including capping and containment systems and ice deflection barriers—that Shell admits have never been properly tested except in laboratories or on paper.
Shell has a very tight window in which to drill for oil. Frigid temperatures, extreme weather conditions and a highly remote location pose unprecedented challenges, and make an Arctic oil spill virtually impossible to contain and clean up. According to a senior official at a Canadian firm that specialises in oil-spill response, “there is really no solution or method today that we’re aware of that can actually recover [spilled] oil from the Arctic.”
Total estimated Arctic oil reserves would satisfy just three years of current global oil demand, but would both contribute significantly to carbon emissions and pose a grave risk to the local ecosystem.
“Companies like Shell are taking advantage of the Arctic sea ice melt to drill for the fossil fuels that continue to drive our climate crisis,” said Argent. “We need to cut our dependency on fossil fuels, and use the trillions set to be invested in dirty oil to ramp up the vehicle efficiency and the rollout out new clean technologies. That way we can protect the Arctic, fight climate change and spark a bonanza in green jobs.”