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Shell is suing Greenpeace for at least $2.1mn in one of the largest ever legal claims against the environmental group after its protesters occupied a vessel for 13 days earlier this year.
The lawsuit follows a protest in February when six Greenpeace activists boarded a ship in the Atlantic Ocean transporting a Shell floating production storage and offloading unit, FPSO, to the Penguins oil and gasfield, north-east of the Shetland Islands.
The environmental group said the size of the claim and a Shell request that Greenpeace cease targeting its oil and gas assets represented “one of the biggest legal threats” in more than 50 years of Greenpeace campaigns.
Shell is trying “to crush Greenpeace’s ability to campaign, and in doing so, seeking to silence legitimate demands for climate justice”, said Areeba Hamid, co-executive director of Greenpeace UK.
While Greenpeace has faced damages claims after protest action in the past, such a large claim was unusual, the group said.
Shell told the Financial Times that it respected the right to protest but that “it must be done safely and lawfully”.
Video footage from January 31, when protesters boarded the vessel, showed Greenpeace activists approaching the giant FPSO in small boats and rough seas before hauling themselves on to the deck using ropes.
Shell said the damages represented the legal costs of securing two previous injunctions against the protesters and the expense, among other things, of mobilising an extra safety vessel.
“Shell and its contractors are entitled to recover the significant costs of responding to Greenpeace’s dangerous actions,” it said.
Shell, which is Europe’s largest oil producer and the biggest company on the FTSE 100, made a record $40bn in profits last year, equivalent to about $110mn a day.
After Shell and its partner Fluor, which built the FPSO, informed the defendants of their intention to make a claim in February, the court granted time for the parties to negotiate out of court.
During that period, according to correspondence provided by Greenpeace, Shell offered to reduce its claim to $1.4mn if Greenpeace agreed to a broader undertaking not to protest in the future at any Shell asset, at sea or in port, anywhere in the world.
Shell’s lawyers added that, were the case to return to court, the claim could rise by as much as $6.5mn if Texas-based Fluor decided to pursue Greenpeace for additional losses. Fluor did not respond to a request for comment.
Greenpeace rejected the offer in October, telling Shell that it would only agree to no further protests if the company complied with a court ruling in the Netherlands in 2021 that required Shell to cut all of its emissions by 45 per cent by 2030. Shell has appealed against the ruling.
Shell has cut its oil output by about 20 per cent since 2019 and is investing in lower-carbon forms of energy to help bring down the company’s emissions over time.
However, new chief executive Wael Sawan has faced criticism from some groups that he has slowed the pace of Shell’s transformation after announcing in June that oil production would be held steady until 2030 and that Shell’s gas sales would continue to grow.
The Penguins field has been producing oil since 2002. In 2018, Shell approved plans to extend the life of the project. The field will produce 45,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day once the redevelopment is complete.