Jim Porter: Greenpeace vs. Shell Oil
May 20, 2013
Many of us have seen advertisements or news clips of Greenpeace activists in their Zodiac rafts interfering with fishing vessels in international waters, sometimes even boarding ships.
Greenpeace also goes after oil and gas ships drilling in the Arctic. The issue in Shell v. Greenpeace was whether the organization has gone too far.
GREENPEACE ACTIVISTS AT WORK
Greenpeace, which is actually a group of environmental activist organizations, adopted a "stop Shell" campaign designed to prevent Shell Oil and its various companies from exploring and drilling for oil in the Outer Continental Shelf located in the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska.
Here is a sampling of some of their more daring "direct actions":
Greenpeace activists boarded the Harvey Explorer and unfurled banners and painted slogans on its walls.
As reported in Greenpeace International's 2010 Annual Report, "our activists evaded Danish Navy commanders and scaled Cairn's (oil company) exploration rig off Greenland … activists were arrested after climbing the rig, attaching themselves under the rig in a "survival pod," and hanging a few meters from the drill bit."
In February 2012, six Greenpeace New Zealand activists illegally boarded the Shell drill ship Noble Discoverer, scaled the drilling tower and tied themselves to the rig and unfurled "stop Shell" banners.
A month later Greenpeace activists boarded two of Shell's "icebreaker" support vehicles, chained themselves, dropped weights in the water to obstruct the vessels propulsion and created a human blockade using divers.
TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER — PRELIMINARY INJUCTION
Shell was scheduled to begin federally-authorized exploration of its Arctic OCS leases in 2012, so it sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to bar Greenpeace USA from coming within specified distances of named Shell vessels. The injunction request was also to prevent Greenpeace from committing illegal acts against those vessels and their occupants.
The federal trial court issued the TRO, then the injunction. Greenpeace USA appealed to the US Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit. The brilliant Chief Judge Alex Kozinski was one of the appellate judges.
In order to obtain a preliminary injunction to prevent a party from doing something, it must be documented that, 1) the Plaintiff is likely to succeed on the merits, 2) he is likely to suffer irreparable harm unless an injunction is issued, 3) the balance of equities tips in the Plaintiffs favor, and 4) an injunction is in the public interest.
The federal Court of Appeals had no problem finding that Shell was likely to win on the merits because it was clear Greenpeace intended to continue committing illegal acts and those "direct actions" by Greenpeace would likely result in irreparable harm to Shell.
The Court found that Shell had an interest in conducting legally-authorized explorations of its Arctic leases without dangerous interference from Greenpeace, so the equities balanced in favor of Shell. Additionally, the Court concluded that the injunction minimally restricted Greenpeace's legitimate environmental activities.
Shell was successful in obtaining an injunction which prohibited Greenpeace from coming within 1,000 meters of Shell's exploration vessels and from trespassing on vessels and interfering with the company's exploration operations and from barricading, blocking or preventing access for vessels.
Count one for Big Oil.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the firm's website at http://www.portersimon.com.