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Lucy Lawless v. Shell: David v. Goliath

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Contributor:
Samantha Lee
Samantha Lee

I am a fan of strong female characters on TV. I fully subscribe to the adage "you can’t be what you can’t see." A huge part of that is having highly visible, positive role models on our screens.

It’s also no secret I’m a fan of David v. Goliath - backing David for the win. Those in power seem almost inevitably to misuse their authority in some way, and those that fight against this in a non-violent but proactive capacity will always have my vote. 

Two of my favourite things have combined this week as Lucy Lawless, (of Spartacus and Xena Warrior Princess fame), along with six other activists working with Greenpeace, has scaled a 53 metre tower on a ship called the Noble Discoverer at the Port of Taranaki. It’s leased from the Noble Corporation by Shell, and is bound for the Arctic to start “exploratory shallow water drilling.” The Greenpeace team argue that a spill like the one in the Gulf of Mexico could conceivably happen again, which would have far-reaching consequences world-wide. They want Shell to cease all planned operations in the Arctic.They are currently, two days later, still ensconced on the ship’s tower, attracting worldwide media attention. (TMZ undoubtedly has the best interview so far - there’s a Xena war cry in it for you.)  

To be completely honest, I started researching this purely because of the guts it took to do this. Think about that conversation for a moment:

“First of all, Lucy, you have consciously decided to break the law. Look, cheers for that. Now, what we want you to do is scale a 53 metre tower, with no safety instructors or stunt doubles present, on a rust bucket loosely called a ship that is just about to leave for the Arctic, which we hear is quite cold.The plan is to survive for two days and nights and counting. No, we don’t know exactly how long. Just go with it. We want you to champion the cause on a tiny little platform with no creature comforts. Maybe a laptop. Don’t play too much Words with Friends. There’ll be no showers or toilets, sorry. Also, you’re going to get very little sleep because helicopters and loudspeakers will be going almost non-stop. There’ll be very strong wind, and being this is Taranaki, probably rain. Oh, and you’ll have to pull it together quick smart and keep it together, because you’re now the star of this enterprise and media from all over the world are going to be expecting you to coherently explain just what the hell it is you think you’re doing. Thanks for your service to Greenpeace, please accept this commemorative pin.”  

Unless you’re Vanessa Redgrave, celebrities just don’t do this stuff. So one can only come to the conclusion that Lucy Lawless is crazier than the Lost polar bear plotline, or she and the rest of her team believe so passionately in their cause and have such hope of making a difference – against a giant as indifferent and unyielding as Shell- that they’ve risked their own safety, legal charges and career damage as a result.

I’ll say it. I admire Lucy Lawless along with the other people on board the “Ignoble Destroyer” for putting her money where her mouth is. You don’t see many people genuinely doing that, let alone people who have a very high profile career and surely enough money to buy an island somewhere should the world go to hell. I figure, if she’s going to spend some time voluntarily standing on a very tiny, windy platform in the middle of the Port of Taranaki promoting a cause, as a fan of the little guys versus the big guys and a Kiwi who loves being part of a nation with a tendency to stand up for what they believe in, I’ll look into it. 

So what is it all about, this oil drilling kerfuffle?  I confess, I followed the Gulf of Mexico disaster with the kind of sympathy one has when they have the luxury of being 6800 nautical miles away. I followed the Rena disaster with the more intense sympathy of knowing this was something affecting beaches I’ve visited, and my countrymen.  In all honesty though, other than being genuinely distraught for the animals affected by the spill, and so enormously proud of the locals who doggedly helped (and are still helping) to clean up the coastline, I didn’t do a whole lot to educate myself on what the dangers of oil drilling are.I didn’t understand the consequences for us should another oil spill occur- particularly in a place with an eco system that is so delicate. That place? Earth. 

So here’s a few things, from a few hours of research, that may not inspire public confidence in oil drilling in general and Shell in particular.  

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill released between 17 and 39 million gallons of oil into the sea. The Minerals Management Service in the US failed to impose a full review of the potential environment impacts of the BP drilling operation because preliminary reviews of the area concluded that a massive oil spill was “unlikely.” Even on the Shell website, a voice over on the Video Action Plan for a blowout, (which strangely does not mention gale force winds, sub-zero temperatures and violent seas, instead depicting a calm, sunny ocean,) assures  us in female, soothing, reassuring tones that “Shell has gone to great lengths that a worst-case scenario, such as an oil spill, never takes place...but in the unlikely event that one did...”

See, to me that sounds a little too much like someone saying ”I would never cheat on you honey...but if I did...I’d have definite plans in place to unscrew you over.” There is no fail-safe method of drilling. 

There is no mention from Shell of how the eco-system in the Arctic would be affected. There is no mention of the fact that if the Noble Discoverer has a 105 day window for drilling, but needs to stop after 67 days to fix a blowout. This gives just over a month of conditions “good enough” to be able to respond effectively. It took well over a month for the Gulf of Mexico spill to be harnessed. It took well over that for the Rena spill, even though it wasn’t from a blow out, to be cleared away. In both cases the effects are still being felt and catalogued.

I was also interested in what David Hone, the Climate Change advisor for Shell, might have to say, as someone who supposedly could not only envisage the effects of oil drilling on climate change, but the effect of a huge blowout on the world. Essentially, disappointingly, it was a whole lot of nothing, rather than “practical aspects of implementation” of climate change solutions specific to Shell. 

Even if you’re not particularly moved by the Arctic – take a look at the “exploration” planned for deep sea drilling in New Zealand. It will be interesting to see Shell’s take on the need for “safe” exploration once the Arctic is sucked dry and we’re tapped on the shoulder to provide the world with oil. 

Alaska Clean Seas has teamed up with Shell for the Arctic drilling campaign. They have “over 30 years experience in recovering oil in Arctic waters,” which makes me question how many spills there have been in the Arctic that have not been widely advertised.I’m concerned that their training takes place in only two hour blocks: 5-7, Mondays. Now, I’m learning basic New Zealand Sign Language. This takes two hours on a Wednesday. See where I’m going with this?

I’m concerned some of their training includes Wildlife Hazing, which is a method of scaring animals away from their natural travel patterns in order to keep them away from the oil spilled. Because stressed and scared animals, unable to utilise the resources they are naturally accustomed to, are apparently much better than no animals at all. 

The Noble Discoverer is owned by Shell contactor Noble Corporation, also known as Noble Drilling. It was built in 1966 (this makes it, by my count, really freaking old.) It is currently listed as being under “inspection” in Brisbane (via Rigzone), so I’m not too sure what it’s doing in New Zealand, because no one online seems to have the correct information on its location.

The Noble Discoverer’s most recent New Zealand job left tonnes of drilling equipment on the sea floor off the coast of Taranaki. By accident. 

Noble Energy (Noble Corporation is a subsidiary of this company) was the first recipient of a permit to drill in the Gulf of Mexico after the disaster. The well that they were permitted to drill is 23 percent owned by Noble, 46.5 percent owned by BP.  Now, if you recall BP were the ones who were at fault for the disaster in the first place. See here for an excellent article, and a link to Rachel Maddow saying, erm, what? 

Noble Corporation have a vested interest in expanding drilling operations. Not because finding and drilling for oil would greatly benefit the rest of us- more because it will benefit them. Its revenue was $751 million dollars last year. David W. Williams, CEO, has this to say in April last year: “Improving utilization in the rest of the world...afforded us the financial flexibility to expand and extend our newbuild program...with several new contracts commencing this quarter and the possibility of increased permitting in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, we expect contact drilling revenues to improve across the balance of the year.”

Noble Corporation is a contractor. Shell pay them $240,000 per day to lease the ship. If a drilling expedition takes approximately 105 days, this is 25 million dollars. For one ship. On one expedition. This is how much money Shell has to play with.  

This is why, in the last two days, Shell can (arrogantly, condescendingly,) put out one tweet on the issue, whereas and Lucy Lawless are fighting for every piece of public attention they can get.

This is also why the 120,000 and counting emails to Shell will be ignored. Shell has, at the very, very least, 25 million reasons to ignore concerns from the public it supposedly benefits. Until there is no market for oil, until there is no money to be made from it, until we lobby our governments to increase funding for sustainable energy research, and more importantly increase incentives for companies like Shell to fund and mass produce these alternatives for public consumption, the risk of oil spills will still be there. 

This is why, after reading a bit more about oil drilling and its associated risks, after seeing that Shell has quite a lot more vested than helping meet “future energy needs,” I understand why it’s so important to highlight the issue in ways that capture public interest and attention. 

It really is a case of David v. Goliath. We’re David. And it’s going to take a lot more than seven brave people in the middle of Taranaki to fell a giant. As Lucy Lawless rightly says: “We all use the product. We all let our governments sell our territories. We are all in this together.” 

You can’t be what you can’t see. So it would seem there is a need for more media coverage of people like Lucy Lawless and her team. It would seem there is a need for people willing to “fight like a tiger” for their future. Because if we can’t be inspired to stand and fight, Goliath really has already won.

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