Shell has taken Greenpeace International to a Dutch court in an attempt to keep protesters at least 500 meters (1,640 feet) away from its properties — or face fines of $1.3 million or more.
The court case was triggered by the latest round of Greenpeace protests against Arctic drilling being done in the Netherlands. Pumps at scores of Shell gas stations around the country have been blocked. In some cases, bicycle locks have been used to clamp fueling nozzles together.
Though the case is being argued in Amsterdam, Greenpeace International attorney Jasper Teulings contends the company is ultimately trying to curtail protests all over the globe. The environmental group is known for staging dramatic stunts such as scaling a Russian oil drilling platform to draw attention to their cause.
“The real issue at stake here is that these small pinpricks, these rather playful acts of civil disobedience, are very effective in drawing attention to something going on very far away in the Arctic,” Teulings said. “Scrutiny of Shell’s operations in the Arctic is increasing. And that is what Shell aims to stop.”
Royal Dutch Shell PLC said in a statement that its legal actions so far were limited to its retail sites and other premises in the Netherlands. It added that it respected the right to peacefully protest against Shell activities but recent Greenpeace actions “have gone well beyond the limits of acceptable protest.”
In its legal complaint, Shell requested “that Greenpeace inform its satellite organizations that it no longer supports protests that are solely directed at causing Shell economic damage or that bring human lives and the environment in danger,” the Associated Press reported. Shell declined to comment on the details of the filing.
On top of seeking the fine for staging a protest too close to Shell properties, activists could face an added fine of roughly $130,000 for every added day that “any activities, at least illegal activities,” continue, according to a summary of Shell demands provided by Greenpeace. Shell declined to comment.
The Dutch court is expected to hand down its verdict in two weeks; until that time, Shell said, the two parties have agreed that Greenpeace “will not carry out disruptive activity at petrol stations that could prevent or disturb customers from fueling their vehicles.” Shell successfully won a similar order from a U.S. federal court earlier this year ordering Greenpeace to stay away from drilling vessels in Alaska.
The case comes as Arctic drilling has come under fire elsewhere in Europe. On Thursday, a British House of Commons environmental committee urged a halt to Arctic drilling until firmer safety measures were put into place, alarmed by the risks posed by a possible spill in the remote region.
Shell said Monday that it was delaying drilling into hydrocarbon zones off Alaska after a dome created to contain any spills was damaged during a final test, limiting itself to drilling shallower “top holes” that can later be deepened into wells. It emphasized it would only move ahead with operations safely.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Greenpeace activists block a Shell gasoline station in the central Dutch town of Breukelen on Sept. 14 to protest drilling in the Arctic sea. Credit: Marcel Antonisse / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images