ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Environmental activists have occupied a barge transporting equipment to the Arctic Ocean's first offshore oil installation.
The environmental group Greenpeace International says it took the action this morning because British Petroleum's (BP) Northstar Development will fuel global warming and open the Arctic to offshore oil expansion.
"BP must turn this barge around," said Stephanie Tunmore, one of six activists from the Greenpeace ship MV Arctic Sunrise who boarded the 130 meter (422 foot) long sea barge just after midnight local time.
"The costs of continuing with Northstar far outweigh the costs of stopping it now. The Arctic is heating up faster than anywhere else on the planet and polar bears and walrus are showing signs of starvation as the sea ice on which they depend melts away," said Tunmore.
The six activists plan to set up a campaign and communications center, which will be powered by solar and wind energy, inside BP's control room and accommodation block.
BP's newest oil field, Northstar encompasses about 60 square miles in the Beaufort Sea, about six miles from Prudhoe Bay. Construction is more than half complete with both onshore and offshore pipelines installed.
The $686 million project, which is scheduled to begin production in late 2001, is made up of 13,000 tonnes of equipment in what BP describes as one of a new generation of smaller but significant oil fields.
Crews had been preparing the island for the summer barge sealift of BP's control center from Anchorage.
"It's certainly an unplanned delay," said BP Exploration Alaska spokesman Ronnie Chappell of this morning's incident.
"We have instructed the tug captain to return the barge to Barrow, Alaska, where police can arrange for the safe removal of protesters from the barge," he told ENS.
Chappell said the Northstar Development would have no adverse impact on the environment and pointed out the project had undergone five years of engineering and environmental scrutiny.
"People need fossil fuels like oil and gas and we are committed to meeting that demand. We are also one of the few companies that have committed to reducing our own CO2 emissions."
BP aims to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases by 10 percent from a 1990 baseline over the period to 2010.
In a statement released today, Greenpeace said BP's claims to be concerned about climate change are hollow.
"The company has aggressively promoted its solar division as proof of its green credentials but will actually be spending over 50 times more on oil exploration and production than on clean, renewable energy," said Greenpeace.
BP announced last week that it will combine the former British Petroleum, Amoco, ARCO and Burmah Castrol to provide a consistent brand, including a new logo that features a yellow image of the sun to represent its market lead in solar power.
"The new corporate logo is especially appropriate for BP Solar," said CEO Harry Shimp. "We see it as a symbol of BPs promise to deliver state-of-the-art solar energy solutions to meet consumers energy needs today while protecting the environment for future generations."
"Many of the companys facilities, off shore oil rigs and retail outlets are already equipped with our solar systems," explains Shimp. "As part of the new brand, BP will integrate our revolutionary thin film solar technology into its new BP Connect retail sites."
BP Solar, a business unit of BP, claims to have 20 percent of the global market for solar photovoltaic systems. Revenue for this year is projected at $200 million from its manufacturing operations in the U.S., Spain, India and Australia.
According to Greenpeace figures, the western Arctic is warming three to five times faster than the global average, threatening the hunting and breeding grounds of marine mammals.
A study published last month by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) shows Greenland's ice sheet, which holds almost 10 percent of the world's frozen water, is melting at a rate of more than three feet a year in places.
NASA's aerial survey shows that more than 11 cubic miles (51 cubic kilometers) of ice is vanishing from the Greenland ice sheet each year.
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