Court Bars Greenpeace from Interfering with Oil Exploration off Alaska's Coast
On March 28, a federal court in Alaska issued a preliminary injunction that bars Greenpeace USA from interfering with ships that Shell is using to support its plans to drill in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off the northwestern coast of Alaska, where Shell holds oil and gas leases it obtained from the federal government.
Shell filed its suit in late February, after Greenpeace activists illegally boarded and occupied a drilling ship that Shell had contracted for use in its Alaska drilling program. The ship was located in New Zealand at the time, and Greenpeace stated to the media that "we can't let this ship get to the Arctic."
Greenpeace opposed Shell's request for a preliminary injunction, but the court rejected each of Greenpeace's main arguments. For example, Greenpeace USA asserted that there are multiple Greenpeace organizations, that the Greenpeace group that boarded Shell's ship in New Zealand was a different group than Greenpeace USA, and that the other group's conduct could not justify an injunction against Greenpeace USA. The court concluded, however, that evidence demonstrated that Greenpeace USA had "fully endorsed the New Zealand activists." Further, Greenpeace described itself on its website as including "more than 40 Greenpeace offices around the world, with international coordination through our headquarters in Amsterdam." Moreover, Greenpeace USA's general counsel testified at the preliminary injunction hearing that illegal activity is one of the tools in the organization's "toolkit of tactics."
Greenpeace USA also argued that a preliminary injunction was improper because Shell had offered nothing more than speculation that Greenpeace USA might attempt to interfere with Shell's drilling. The court disagreed, stating that Shell had proven "by a preponderance of the evidence that it is likely Greenpeace USA would intend to commit tortious or illegal acts against Shell's Arctic drilling operations in the absence of preliminary injunctive relief." Although the court relied primarily on statements on Greenpeace USA's website and the organization's endorsement of the illegal boarding committed by Greenpeace activists in New Zealand, the court stated that it also had "accorded a minor degree of weight" to Greenpeace USA's failure to offer any testimony whatsoever denying that it intended to improperly interfere with Shell's ships.
This court finds that the natural response by Greenpeace USA to Shell's accusations against it would have been to deny any intention to commit illegal or tortious acts against Shell. But no such response has been made by Greenpeace in the record."
Accordingly, the court entered a preliminary injunction that bars Greenpeace from interfering with Shell's ships while they are in coastal and U.S. territorial waters. Specifically, the injunction bars Greenpeace USA an those who act in concert with it from approaching nearer than 500 or 1000 meters from 19 specifically-listed ships that Shell intends to use in supports of its exploration off the Alaska coast (a specific distance is listed for each ship). The preliminary injunction is scheduled to last until October 31, 2012 or until the court issues an order otherwise, while the parties continue to litigate whether the court should make the injunction permanent.
As noted in a prior post in the Oil & Gas Law Brief, Shell obtained offshore leases from the federal government several years ago for various tracts in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. Shell presented an exploration plan and environmental assessment to regulators, who reviewed that information and recently gave Shell permission to proceed with exploration.