Penguins FPSO; Credit: Chris J Ratcliffe; Source: Greenpeace

Multi-million legal threat brews on UK horizon, as Shell sues Greenpeace for boarding North Sea-bound FPSO

UK-headquartered energy giant Shell is in the process of bringing forth one of the biggest legal challenges Greenpeace has ever faced, in response to the 13-day occupation of its new circular floating production, storage, and offloading (FPSO) vessel earlier this year by the environmental group’s activists. This FPSO is destined for the oil major’s North Sea project off the UK.

Penguins FPSO; Credit: Chris J Ratcliffe; Source: Greenpeace

Four Greenpeace activists boarded Boskalis’ White Marlin vessel, carrying Shell’s Penguins FPSO from inflatable boats north of the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean on January 31, 2023, as it was being transported from a Chinese shipyard in preparation for work at the UK player’s redevelopment project at the Penguins field in the North Sea.

The protestors onboard the vessel called on Shell to take responsibility for its role in causing the climate crisis and to pay into loss and damage funds. Two days into the protest, the energy giant posted record annual profits of nearly $40 billion, sparking another Greenpeace protest at its London headquarters.

After posting the profits, Shell tried to shut down the protest by securing an injunction on February 3, threatening fines and up to two years in prison. However, despite court orders, Greenpeace was able to sustain the occupation and add two climbers on February 6, to join the original four. Six days later, on February 12, the protestors climbed the vessel’s 125-meter flare boom and waved a banner saying “Stop drilling. Start Paying.”

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Later that same day, the FPSO was brought into dock and protestors descended the boom and disembarked in Haugesund. This was the end of what is said to be Greenpeace’s longest-ever occupation of a moving oil platform. At the time of the protest, Shell and its co-claimant, platform builder Fluor, claimed they would seek damages over $120,000 over alleged caused damage.

The claim demanded that the environmental group pay for increased security costs associated with the protest, and for other damage that might have occurred. According to Greenpeace, with no assessment having yet taken place, the claim failed to explain exactly what the sum of over $120,000 is for, or what damage is alleged. 

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Shell is now taking steps to hit Greenpeace with a $2.1 million damages claim, calling for an indefinite block on all protests at its global infrastructure at sea or in port. Otherwise, the oil major will make claims that could reach $8.6 million if its contracting companies join the fray to pursue damages.

Greenpeace dubbed the legal challenge “an intimidation lawsuit” while explaining that the $8.6 million damages claim and an injunction, which it is currently facing represent one of the biggest legal threats against its network’s ability to campaign in its more than 50-year history.

Furthermore, the environmental group’s campaigners believe the legal tactics, which they describe as “aggressive” are a bid to silence growing dissent over moves by Shell’s CEO, Wael Sawan, to double down on fossil fuel investment and abandon the transition to renewables.

Yeb Saño, Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, commented: “Shell is trying to silence my legitimate demands: that it must stop its senseless and greedy pursuit of fossil fuels and take accountability for the destruction it is wreaking upon the world. I will stand up in court and fight this; and if Shell refuses to stop drilling, I refuse to stop fighting for climate justice.”

According to Greenpeace, Shell said the damages could be over $8 million but made a settlement offer with a reduced amount of $1.4 million in damages and a legal undertaking that all of the group’s organizations would agree to never protest on its infrastructure again at sea or in port anywhere in the world. If this case were to go to court, it would come with a risk of legal fees through the court process which could amount to further millions.

Moreover, Greenpeace UK and Greenpeace International underlined that they would agree to such a protest ban if Shell agreed to “stop wrecking the climate” by complying with the Netherlands court order requiring the company to reduce its emissions by 45% by 2030, relative to 2019, across all activities. As negotiations between the parties have now concluded, legal costs have been mounting since November 1, while Greenpeace awaits to see the details of Shell’s claim.

Areeba Hamid, Co-executive Director of Greenpeace UK, remarked: “Under Wael Sawan, Shell’s abandoned any pretense of good intentions, and is brazenly embracing a sinister strategy that’s not just risky for shareholders, but completely devastating for people on the front lines of the climate crisis. Sawan’s ditching green policies, sacking former colleagues from his renewables division, and he’s gas-lit the world by claiming a retreat from fossil fuels would be ‘dangerous’.

“Now he’s trying to crush Greenpeace’s ability to campaign, and in doing so, seeking to silence legitimate demands for climate justice and payment for loss and damage. We need this case to be thrown out and for Shell to be regulated by the government because it’s clear Sawan is hell-bent on profit, regardless of human cost.”

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Offshore Energy was unable to independently verify the damages amount for the claim, however, Shell’s spokesperson confirmed legal action against Greenpeace to Reuters, emphasizing that boarding a moving vessel at sea was “unlawful and extremely dangerous” while adding that the right to protest was “fundamental and we respect it absolutely. But it must be done safely and lawfully.” 

The Penguins FPSO is a 118-meter-tall vessel, which is equivalent to a 42-story residential building. It has the ability to withstand harsh sea conditions and weighs 32,000 tonnes. The FPSO can process 12.75 million barrels of crude oil and 1.24 billion m3 of natural gas per year. It has a maximum crude storage capacity of 400,000 barrels.

This is the first new operated vessel for Shell in the northern North Sea in 30 years. At peak production, the project is expected to yield the equivalent of 45,000 barrels of oil per day, and the oil major has suggested that it could open up further areas for exploration.