Royal Dutch Shell has failed in its bid to win a sweeping injunction against two offices of Greenpeace, a setback to the company’s attempt to end protests by the environmental group over Arctic oil drilling.
In a ruling issued today, Shell’s proposed injunction was rebuffed by the President of the Amsterdam court, Han Jongeneel, who said the protests Greenpeace Netherlands has already taken in the Netherlands at Shell’s headquarters and petrol stations were both proportionate and appropriate in light of Greenpeace’s earlier efforts to end Shell’s Arctic oil drilling through other means.
“A company like Shell, that is taking actions or plans to take actions that are controversial in society and which many people will object to, can and should expect that actions will be taken to try to change its mind. Such actions – in order to be effective – will have to be capable of disadvantaging Shell,” Jongeneel wrote.
“The principle of proportionality entails that actions should not go beyond what is necessary to reach the intended goal. To date, Greenpeace has respected this requirement by not taking action at all Shell fuel stations (about 600), but at approximately 70. Therefore, there is no need to grant an injunction on this point; although Greenpeace will have to continue taking this requirement into account in future,” the judge said.
The ruling, which is in place for the next six months, allows activists to stage protests at Shell properties in the Netherlands for a maximum of two hours and to disrupt fuel sales for up to an hour.
Greenpeace is pursuing a major international campaign against the oil giant over its plans to drill in the melting Arctic, and Greenpeace offices across the globe have staged a series of peaceful direct actions at fuel stations, on icebreaking ships and at company offices over the past year.
Responding to the news, Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo said:
“Shell’s latest attempt to silence its critics has failed. The judge rejected the majority of this injunction and has reminded the company that civil disobedience is a right in democracies, even when its business is impacted. Over two million people have joined our campaign to protect the Arctic and they will not be deterred by unwarranted legal bullying.
“We must ask ourselves which party in this case presents a greater threat to the public interest – a peaceful environmental group or a desperate oil company determined to send rigs into the freezing Arctic ocean. Shell has no credible response plan in the event of an oil spill, which would be a financial and environmental disaster.
“This injunction will not prevent us from opposing Arctic drilling passionately and peacefully both in the Netherlands and across the world. We can’t match Shell’s enormous financial muscle, but we have creativity and millions of people behind us. This is the defining environmental battle of our time and we have only just begun.”
Shell initially demanded an injunction that would have prevented Greenpeace activists or sympathisers anywhere in the world from protesting legally within 500 meters of any Shell property – even on public land at the risk of fines of more than 1 million euros.
The company was forced to narrow its request after the judge cautioned that he could throw the case out if he considered the claim excessive. The judge granted a limited injunction, which left two offices – Greenpeace Netherlands and Greenpeace International – facing penalties of 25,000 euros for every hour that they are in breach of the injunction.
This year Shell has pursued a highly aggressive legal strategy against Greenpeace and a range of other environmental groups:
• In the United States, Greenpeace US is subject to an injunction preventing staff or supporters from coming within 500 metres of any Shell drilling or support vessel.
• Separately, Greenpeace US and 12 other US environmental and Indigenous groups are being sued to preempt challenges to the company’s oil spill response plan.
• In New Zealand, police are pursuing an inflated NZD 725,000 (€467,000) damage claim on behalf of Shell against activists, including actress Lucy Lawless, who occupied one of its two Arctic drilling rigs.
Shell’s final request contained a clause which demands that GreenpeaceInternational“instruct other Greenpeace offices around the world to refrain from any action that would interfere with Shell’s business in the Netherlands”.
The injunction granted today is limited to Greenpeace International and Greenpeace Netherlands. National and regional Greenpeace offices around the world operate independently in contributing to the implementation of global campaign strategies decided by Greenpeace International.