Oil firm accused of gagging protest group

THE Scottish oil company which was the target of a protest by environmental activists over its oil drilling operations in the Arctic has been accused of using a court order to gag them from divulging details of its emergency spill plans.

More than 60 Greenpeace members dressed as polar bears occupied Cairn Energy's Edinburgh headquarters on Monday in what they claimed was a search for the company's missing documents setting out its response to any oil spill in the Arctic region.

The environmental group said that the interim interdict Cairn had obtained against it was a "wide-ranging gagging order" requiring that any Tweets and Facebook updates made by the protesters during the incident be redacted.

Describing it as a "legal hammer", Greenpeace alleged that this was "apparently aimed at preventing the publication of their secret Arctic response plan."

Meanwhile, a group of ten women and seven men appeared in court yesterday in relation to the incident at Cairn's headquarters.

The activists denied allegations relating to the occupation of the offices in Lothian Road and were granted bail on the condition that they do not go within 300 metres of the Clydesdale Plaza. All 17 were ordered to return to court in either October or November.

The separate court order granted to the oil company on Monday night, following the removal of the protesters by police, is said to prohibit the "disseminating, printing, uploading, sharing, copying or otherwise publishing any images, photographs, pictures or other material (or copies thereof) taken or recorded by Greenpeace activists present within 50 Lothian Road, Edinburgh on or around 18 July 2011".

Lawyers advising the environmental group have told campaigners involved in the protest that the injunction meant they must remove Tweets and Facebook updates carrying pictures of protesters – and that photographs issued to national newspapers by Greenpeace should also be retracted.

The environmental group has targeted the firm before and occupied a drilling vessel operated on its behalf in the region.

Cairn announced last month that it had begun drilling in two wells approximately 100 miles and 185 miles off Nuuk, the capital of Greenland. Each drilling operation is in water deeper than 900 metres.

The drilling had been delayed by two Greenpeace protesters who occupied the 53,000-tonne drilling vessel, operated on behalf of Cairn Energy.

The executive director of Greenpeace UK, John Sauven, accused the firm of attempting to cover up the operations "by any means they can".

"Cairn Energy is using its legal muscle to try and gag us from telling the truth about their dangerous oil drilling in the fragile Arctic environment," he said.

"The company is clearly worried that our volunteers may have got their hands on their secret Arctic spill response documents and now they are determined to continue their cover-up by any means they can – even if that means impinging on important freedoms of expression."

Mr Sauvern insisted that the group would not be deterred from its campaign against Cairn.

Last night, Cairn confirmed that it had been granted an interim interdict against Greenpeace in relation to the occupation.

"The interim interdict was granted by the Court of Session in Edinburgh and prevents them from carrying out similar action in Cairn's offices in the future," it said.

"As previously stated, Cairn respects the rights of individuals and organisations to express their views in a safe and peaceful manner but would be concerned with any action that represents a breach of security and that may pose a risk to the safety of people and equipment."

Cairn insisted that its operations worked within the "most stringent and robust" safety measures.

"It is in the interests of the Greenland government to put in place the most stringent and robust measures," it added. "Cairn takes its responsibilities such as oil spill contingency and response plans very seriously."

Back to the top of the page