News and updates

Cairn Energy in the Arctic Casino

Founders foesand chair of the Greenland Oil Industry Association, Edinburgh based Cairn Energy are by far the most active oil company in Greenland.

This report, written by Ric Lander for Friends of the Earth Scotland’s new Corporate Accountability campaign, details Cairn’s risky prospecting in the high Arctic. The briefing examines chemical spills, threats to marine wildlife, safety concerns, and the complex web of political and financial links which make Arctic drilling possible.

Cairn Energy: Arctic Cowboys – Executive Summary

  • Edinburgh-based Cairn Energy is by far the largest oil company operating in Greenland. They founded and chair the Greenland Oil Industry Association and have drilled eight out of the fourteen wells ever drilled offshore in Greenland.
  • Cairn admit that all of their operations in Greenland are in areas “sensitive in terms of biodiversity”. Numerous sensitive habitats and IUCN red-listed species inhabit the areas in which they operate including Blue Whale, Sei Whale, Narwhal, Walrus, White-tailed Eagle, Hooded Seal and Polar Bear.
  • Cairn refused to publish a spill response plan for their operations but in 2011, following a high-profile campaign by Greenpeace, the plan was published by the Greenlandic Government.
  • The plan has multiple shortcomings, most crucially that Cairn’s plan is not adequate to enable a full and speedy clean-up of the kind of spill which could happen in the area. It is likely that a spill would have catastrophic impacts on the Arctic environment.
  • Despite specific policy claims to reduce pollution rates, Cairn’s emissions of green-house gas emissions, NOx, VOCs have all increased over the last five years.
  • Cairn has received millions of pounds of funding from UK taxpayers via the bailed out UK banks RBS and Lloyds Group, and the World Bank division the ‘International Finance Corporation’.
  • David Cameron personally intervened to help Cairn raise money which was used to finance their Arctic drilling campaign.
  • Cairn have relationships with a number of charitable and educational institutions in Scotland including the Universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt, and the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh.
  • After two years of failure, Cairn have not been actively drilling in the Arctic in 2012, and may pull out of the region all together if they are under enough pressure.
  • Investment managers are beginning to see that the risks of Arctic drilling are making them an increasingly poor investment.
  • Friends of the Earth Scotland are calling for a final end to Cairn’s operations in Greenland and a moratorium on the operations of Scottish oil companies in the Arctic.

The full report can be downloaded in full from Friends of the Earth Scotland:


Is Britain becoming Gasland?

fracking_bannerIt’s not every day that you see images of farmland turned to wasteland, normally healthy people describing their unnatural diseases, and the killer: people’s tap water catching on fire.

Welcome to Gasland, Josh Fox’s excellent 2010 flick about hydraulic gas fracturing, or “fracking”, in the US which has picked up laurels from numerous festivals not to mention being nominated for the Academy Award. Yet although cinemas showings have met critical acclaim, like most activist-documentaries the film’s enduring appeal is its ability to shock, compelling the viewer to organise the next screening in scratch living room viewings or student union events.

The film gives us a dystopian picture of a world where energy supply takes complete precedence over almost ever other human need. Of course, this is isn’t an image of the future, it’s the world we live in today, and that’s why in February People & Planet voted overwhelmingly to start campaigning on fracking and other methods of unconventional fossil fuel extraction.

The resource under the spotlight is natural gas and with conventional supplies dwindling, the price of gas riding historically high, and plenty of gas-fired power stations to feed, the UK Government is keen to see new sources developed. Gas companies are after two unconventional forms in Britain: shale gas and coal-bed methane. Reservoirs are trapped in seams of rock, and by pumping a mixture of water and chemicals into the seam at explosive pressures the gas can be tapped – this is fracking, and although it is not always used, when it has been there are many records of natural gas and fracking chemicals polluting ground and surface-water and large-scale earth tremors.

British politicians have sought to reassure us that the problems shown in Gasland are a result of poor regulation: an American problem. But research as to the true local impacts in the is not yet conclusive giving campaigners little to be confident about. The global impact though, it clear: a 2011 report by the respected Tyndall Centre condemned exploitation of these resources as being incompatible with cutting carbon emissions.

Fracking and unconventional gas is not the fight for our movement, but the scale and pace of this risky technology’s development is symptomatic of the state of our world in the early 21st century: a society desperate to cling on to failing systems, at almost any cost. If we’re to move towards a greener society, we must stop feeding our addiction to fossil fuels.

This article was written as a contribution to the People & Planet magazine ‘The Activist, Winter 2012 edition.