Cairn energy: the worst oil company you've never heard of
At Climate Camp last week our main target was the Royal Bank of Scotland for it’s part in bankrolling climate change, but a secondary one was Edinburgh based Cairn Energy.
Cairn aren’t a famous name like BP or Shell, but right now they’re at the heart of one of the biggest battles that the environmental movement faces in the next few years: the fight to stop extreme oil extraction.
More and more geologists now suspect that the world is approaching peak oil, the point at which we will have reached the maximum rate of global oil production, after which the rate will decline and oil will become harder and harder to extract. Most of the world’s most easily tapped reserves of oil are in production or in fact have already peaked. With declining availability, the price of oil gets pushed up. This problem is made even worse by the fact that financial speculators on the commodity markets take advantage of the situation, and push the price up even further. In this situation it becomes profitable to get oil from places so extreme that before companies wouldn’t have bothered.
One such place is the Arctic. The Arctic sea ice is melting at a terrifying rate due to the warming experienced as a result of capitalism’s carbon emissions. This is a disaster for the peoples and creatures that live in the Arctic; just take a look at the clip from the BBC’s Planet Earth below to get an idea:
The BBC filmed a previous documentary about polar bears in the same area 20 years ago, and the entire area was frozen through the summer; indeed the ice at that time extended far south of there.
The melting ice is also a disaster waiting to happen for us, as it will lead to ever rising sea levels. Historically, most human cities are close to the coasts of their countries to have access to the sea and trade, and there are literally billions of people who will have to move to higher ground or drown, and many of the world’s greatest cities and communities that face destruction.
But recently we’ve been hearing less about the disaster that we face as a result of the collapse of the polar ice sheets, and more and more about the advantages. Countries with Arctic coastlines, such as Russia, the US and Canada, have been beefing up their military capability in the region in anticipation of it becoming an important area for strategic control in the world like never before.
One way it could become important is the opening up of sea lanes between the factories of Asia and the consumers of North America and Europe that would be much shorter than the distances traveled by shipping at the moment. But the most important thing for capitalism about the melting Arctic ice is the possibility of gaining access to untapped fossil fuel reserves in the previously inaccessible seabed below. The US Geological Survey reckons there could be 90 billion barrels of oil under the Arctic, and 50 trillion cubic metres of gas.
Here’s where Scottish-based Cairn comes in. This year they began exploratory drilling off the coast of Greenland, in an area known as ‘iceberg alley’ because there are so many. This was funded by public money, funneled their way by the Royal Bank of Scotland. To be precise, Cairn received £117 million of your money in the form of loans and equity from RBS, without which it wouldn’t be possible for them to be doing what they’re doing in iceberg alley.
This same area is currently a pristine habitat, home to 80% of the world’s narwhals, as well as a key feeding ground for blue whales, polar bears and many different migratory birds. If there were to be an industrial accident in iceberg alley, this entire ecosystem would be put in jeopardy. A major cause behind the recent Gulf of Mexico oil mega-disaster is the fact that oil companies are now drilling at depths which we’ve never reached before, and which it’s very difficult to drill safely at. If something similar happened in the Arctic it would be way, way worse though.
Beautiful narwhals, who's future is endangered by Cairn
The cold water would break down oil at a much slower rate. What remains of the ice cap could freeze over the top in winter, meaning huge quantities of oil would be trapped below the surface. And it would be incredibly hard to mount the kind of operations that have been tried in the Gulf to stop the spill due to the extreme conditions – a similar event in iceberg alley could see oil gushing into the sea for years, effectively wiping out many Arctic creatures. Cairn, the trailblazers in this area, have very little experience of dealing with these kinds of extreme accidents, having mainly made their name extracting on-shore oil in India.
Cairn are headed by former Scotland rugby player Sir Bill Gammell, a man who’s very well connected. He was at at school with Tony Blair at Edinburgh’s posh private Fettes. He’s also a family friend of the Bush’s, after his father invested in Bush-Overby in the 50′s, the firm of future US President George Bush Senior. George W. Bush was a guest at his wedding in 1983, and when he became President he was quoted as saying he’d “heard from our Scottish friends, the Gammell’s” that Blair was “a good guy.”
Cairn are now valued at £10 billion and is one of the FTSE 100. But Gammell’s rise to international success isn’t happening without opposition. At climate camp, while SSY members were back at the site getting ready to push a siege tower down the hill at glacial pace, a group of protesters broke off to go into town and take action at the Cairn HQ on Lothian Road.
Well connected knobhead Bill Gammell in supervillain mode
Activists unleashed the Trojan Pig, filled with sticky molasses, on the building, which was triggered by a golden coin representing public money. They also sprayed the building with molasses filled fire extinguishers, as part of the “oil” spill. Incidentally, this is probably what led to the police lies about an “oil spill” on Edinburgh roads, faithfully repeated by a compliant media and right wing internet idiots. Check the video below, which shows the action, as well as traffic and pedestrians continuing to use Lothian Road with no bother afterwards:
But the lies unleashed against these protesters are nothing compared to the risks faced by Greenpeace activists in the Arctic. In the past week, activists based on the Greenpeace ship the Esperanza were able to get round Danish naval commandos (!) to get to the Cairn rig the Stena Don, and suspend themselves from ropes in survival suits and tents directly over the near freezing Arctic ocean. They succeeded in shutting down drilling. Now that’s hardcore activism!
Yesterday the extreme Arctic weather forced the activists to retreat, at which point they were taken into custody, but not before they’d prevented two days of dangerous drilling.
One thing that should be a priority as part of this campaign for the Scottish pro-independence left is noting the hostile reaction to the rig occupation by the Greenlandic government. Greenland has historically been a colony off Denmark, and remains officially a part of the country. However, today it is largely independent, with control over most of its own affairs. Last year, the Greenland elections brought to power the Inuit Ataqatigiit party. The Inuit are the indigenous people of the area, and their name simply means ‘the people,’ so the party’s name translated is “Community of the People.” They’re a socialist party who want full independence for Greenland, and so should naturally be the kind of people that we would be looking to make links with.
However, the Greenland PM Kuupik Kleist has expressed his anger at the occupation of the rig.
Greenland's PM, Kuupik Kleist
“This is clearly an illegal act, ignoring the rules of democracy,” he said in a statement.
“The cabinet regards Greenpeace’s action as very serious and an illegal attack on the country’s constitutional rights. It is worrying that Greenpeace, in their hunt for media exposure, violate security rules made to protect human lives and the environment.”
I freely have to admit I don’t know as much about the political situation in Greenland as I’d like, or just how left wing Kleist’s party are. But as part of any ongoing campaign against a Scottish based oil company’s devastation of the Arctic, I think it’s absolutely urgent that we seek to make contact with people who are our potential friends in Greenland, and get a dialogue over how they see the future of what is, after all, their country. It seems clear that the government there is prioritising economic development to try and lift their people out of poverty, a dilemma that faces left wing and indigenous based governments around the world, as seen by some of the debates in Bolivia recently for example. What this highlights is that the people of Greenland can’t face this issue alone, and if they’re going to be able to step away from a future based on dangerous fossil fuel extraction then they need international solidarity from sympathetic peoples in struggle.
But in the meantime we shouldn’t let this dissuade us from taking more action in Scotland against Cairn for their reckless actions. Following on from Climate Camp, it’s key that SSY and others build up the level of radical action being taken around the issue of climate change and capitalism’s ecological destruction, and it’s hard to think of a more easily accessible and logical target than Cairn’s HQ. Just in case you’re thinking of something yourself, here’s the details you’d need: