Activists are currently protesting against Austrian oil company OMV’s exploratory drilling in the remote arctic waters of Norway’s Barents Sea. The protest is happening 300 kilometers north of the Norwegian city Hammerfest, where the rig Transocean Spitsbergen is searching for new sources of oil far above the Arctic Circle.
Greenpeace Activists from Germany, Hungary, Austria and Norway, based on the nearby Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, held banners with the message “No Arctic Oil”, while a similar message was displayed on a LED Banner hanging off the Arctic Sunrise itself. With this protest the environmental organization is bearing witness to ongoing oil drilling in the Arctic, despite the potentially huge environmental risks associated with such reckless drilling operations.
Lukas Meus, Arctic Campaigner from Greenpeace Austria,said: “This exploration rig is just one example that showcases the ongoing threat to the Arctic coming from oil companies. Despite the fact that big companies like Shell have withdrawn from arctic areas like Alaska after spending billions and billions of dollars failing to find any oil, there are others like OMV who are sneaking into the far north under the cover of darkness, hiding the fact from the public that they are risking major damages to the environment. That´s why the Arctic Sunrise is here: to expose OMV’s reckless attempts to find oil in these freezing arctic waters.”
OMV started its exploration drilling in January 2016, right in the middle of the fearsome arctic winter. Storms, sub-zero temperatures and long periods of darkness make even the simplest of operations extremely difficult. OMV is totally unprepared for a worst-case accident and an oil spill would have a huge impact on this fragile area, including the nearby nature reserve of Bear Island, which is only located 180 kilometers away from the drilling side. The island is not only home to the largest bird colonies of the northern hemisphere, but it also gives shelter to seals, wales and polar bears. „Oil drilling is always risky. But by drilling in the depths of the arctic winter, OMV, a company with almost zero experience so far north, has taken risk taking to a ludicrous extent,” says Meus.
Oil spills in the Arctic can trigger disastrous consequences. So far there is no effective method of removing oil spilled in ice-covered water. Furthermore – due to the cold temperatures – the natural degradation of oil takes longer than in warmer areas of the world. An oil spill could therefore harm the Arctic in the long run.
“Greenpeace is calling for an end to oil drilling operations and to destructive fisheries in the icy waters of Arctic. More than 7.5 million people around the world have already joined Greenpeace in calling for the creation of a protected Global Sanctuary around the North Pole that would be off-limits to oil companies and reckless fishing fleets. OMV and all other oil companies finally need to take responsibility and leave the remote, icy waters of the Arctic for good,” concludes Meus.