Protesters occupy second North Sea oil rig

Environmental activists have occupied a second oil exploration rig in the North Sea, only days after abandoning a similar protest in the same area.

Four Greeenpeace activists have occupied a rig in Cromarty Firth, Scotland, in protest against the oil industry’s involvement in climate change and against oil exploration in the fragile ecosystems of the north east Atlantic.

The occupation of the rig follows the occupation by two Greenpeace protesters of the Jack Bates exploration rig in the same area. Both rigs are due to begin drilling operations in the deep waters west of the Hebrides – the ‘Atlantic Frontier’ – which Greenpeace says is Europe’s most important habitat for whales and coral reefs.

The occupied rig, the Sovereign Explorer, is currently chartered by Marathon Oil. The protesters say they intend to maintain the occupation until such time as the UK Government suspends the drilling on the Atlantic Frontier.

Earlier this week, the main environment and conservation groups wrote to the UK’s Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott asking him to prevent further drilling in the Atlantic Frontier. The letter says the drilling in the region is unnecessary as the oil found cannot safely be used as fuel.

Greenpeace have also written to Scottish Office Minister Brian Wilson asking for a meeting to discuss the future of renewable energy schemes in Scotland but say they have received no reply.

In November 1999, Greenpeace successfully sued the UK Government for failing to apply the EC Habitats Directive in the North East Atlantic (see related story). Greenpeace had argued in the High Court that the Government had breached the EC Habitats Directive by licensing oil and gas exploration to go ahead in the Atlantic Frontier without first introducing conservation measures to protect marine life in the area. In addition, Greenpeace argued that Government guidelines to protect whales and dolphins from the impact of seismic testing fail to meet the requirements of the Directive.

Greenpeace’s case centred on the UK Government’s decision to only apply the EU Habitat’s Directive up to 12 miles from the coast rather than the 200 mile limit where it licenses oil drilling. The judge said that the government had “clearly” not applied the Habitats Directive offshore.

The ruling means that all future offshore oil licensing is now illegal until the Government properly applies the EU Habitats Directive. However, the Government is allowing drilling to go ahead even though it has not yet implemented the ruling.

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