BP withdraws Greenpeace damages claim

Company and environmental group both claim victory on Atlantic oil exploration tussle

BP today unilaterally withdrew a legal action for damages against Greenpeace which could have bankrupted the group. Earlier this week, the oil major sought 1.3 million (Ecu1.9 million) and obtained a court injunction against further disruption of its oil operations in the north-east Atlantic.

BP then swiftly offered to suspend its action for damages provided Greenpeace would agree "not to further hinder BP's exploration and production activities west of Shetland." Greenpeace said that it would abide by any court order, but absolutely rejected any question of ending its campaign against the development of new oil fields in the Atlantic Ocean and elsewhere.

Deciding that it had adequately made its point, nevertheless, BP today withdrew the damages claim and indicated that it would release Greenpeace's bank accounts, which were frozen on Tuesday. "The company had held clarifying discussions with Greenpeace and was now satisfied that it and its officers would observe the court order," BP said in a statement today.

Greenpeace greeted the development as a "comprehensive retreat" by BP and vowed to continue its campaign against new oil exploration to prevent climate change. "Public support has led BP to back down," Chris Rose of Greenpeace UK said today.

Nevertheless, a legal action against the captain of the Greenpeace vessel involved in the tussle with a BP rig will continue, with a court hearing due in Scotland tomorrow. The action was brought following an eight-day protest in the Atlantic during which Greenpeace campaigners boarded a floating oil platform and delayed its passage (ENDS Daily 14 August). BP is paying some 60,000 (Ecu89,000) a day for the platform's hire.

It remains unclear which side has come out on top following Greenpeace's action and BP's riposte. In the short term, the company has won a guarantee that there will be no more physical obstruction of its activities. However, Green parties around the world began mobilising on Tuesday to encourage a global boycott of BP products, and may not let go of the issue despite the withdrawal of the legal threat.

In any case, the issue of oil exploration in the "Atlantic Frontier" region will swiftly return to the headlines next month, when Greenpeace begins a court action against the UK government and a number of oil companies. The group alleges that environmental impact assessments for oil exploration have not been carried out as required under EU law (ENDS Daily 25 July).

Follow Up:
BP , tel: +44 171 496 2000; Greenpeace UK , tel: +44 171 865 8100.

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