Greenpeace activists board Greenland oil rig

The Greenland government is condemning Greenpeace after two of its activists boarded the company's oil rig off the west coast of Greenland on Sunday to protest Arctic offshore drilling.
In this Greenpeace photo, an activist scales the underside of Cairn Energy's Leiv Eiriksson oil rig on Sunday. Two activists are suspended under the rig in a survival pod, with about 10 days' worth of food and water. (Greenpeace)

The Greenland government is condemning Greenpeace after two of its activists boarded the company's oil rig off the west coast of Greenland on Sunday to protest Arctic offshore drilling.

Greenpeace says the activists scaled the 53,000-tonne rig Leiv Eiriksson, run by Scotland-based Cairn Energy, and are now hanging under it in a survival pod they have set up.

The group has enough food and water to stay for 10 days in the pod, hanging a few metres from the drill-bit that would be used to strike oil, according to the environmental activist group.

The activists arrived at the rig in inflatable speedboats launched from the Greenpeace ship Esperanza, which has avoided a Danish warship shadowing them for days, according to the group.

'Incredible risks'

Greenpeace says it is trying to stop Cairn Energy from exploring for oil and gas in the area, citing the environmental dangers of deepwater drilling in the Arctic.

The group has criticized Cairn, which is the only company drilling in the area, for not taking the extra precautions needed to avoid accidents such as the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

"Cairn Energy only has a very narrow window, or narrow window of months in which these regions are ice-free, in which to operate," Ben Ayliffe, an activist aboard the Esperenza, told CBC News on Monday.

"What we want to do is bring attention to the incredible risks that this small Scottish company is taking with this region. A spill in this area would be catastrophic."

Cairn Energy successfully drilled three oil and gas exploration wells off Greenland's western coast last year. The company plans to drill up to four more wells this summer.

Condemned as publicity stunt

The Greenland government, which has approved Cairn Energy's offshore exploration plans for the past two years, condemned Greenpeace's protest as an illegal publicity stunt on Monday.

"In Greenland we look at the Greenpeace action as a never-ending hunt for media attention and in the end to hunt financial contributions from the western world," Ove Karl Berthelsen, Greenland's minister for industry and mineral resources, said in a statement.

"This happens in a sinister way and on the cost of a [country's] legal right for economical development."

Berthelsen added that Cairn Energy's exploration plans comply with "very high standards for safety and environmental protection."

In its own release, Cairn Energy said the Leiv Eiriksson, a semi-submersible drill rig, continues to operate on Monday.

"Cairn respects the rights of individuals and organizations to express their views in a safe and peaceful manner but would be concerned with any action that presents a risk to the safety of people and/or equipment," the company stated.

Stringent rules in place

Cairn said it "seeks to operate in a safe and prudent manner" and pointed out that authorities in Greenland have established stringent operating regulations, similar to those applied in the Norwegian North Sea.

The Greenland government granted Cairn Energy permission earlier this year to drill up to seven oil exploration wells.

While Cairn is currently the only company drilling in the area, Greenpeace warned an Arctic oil rush could be set off if the company strikes oil this summer.

Greenpeace activists had climbed aboard the Leiv Eiriksson rig when it left a port in Istanbul in April, but were forced to abandon that protest due to bad weather.

Last year, activists also tried to stop drilling in the area by climbing onto Cairn's Stena Don rig and staying there for a couple of days before being removed by authorities.

With files from The Associated Press