Defending Arctic Drilling Operations Against Environmentalist Pirates

Arctic Oil Rig
James C. Winton and Justin T. Scott | Article

This Article addresses the rights of a vessel owner/operator and an oil company engaged in exploration activities in remote Arctic ocean regions to protect its operations against those who would interfere with the vessels being used. It first addresses the scope of duties owed to those who are on board a vessel with the express or implied permission of the owner/operator, stowaways, and those aboard for purposes adverse to the interests of the owner/operator. It then discusses the traditional rights and remedies available to vessel owners/operators and to the lease operator oil companies to protect drilling operations from environmental activists who threaten to disrupt operations in the Arctic seas. Finally, based on recent case law, we suggest new theories and methodologies to protect operations, utilizing 200-year-old doctrines and procedures to stop such interference before it occurs.

We begin by describing a scenario taken from newspapers and cases detailing the actions of environmental protestors and the responses of oil companies, drilling contractors, and support vessel operators working in theArctic waters and on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) and the governing law applicable thereto. We then move on to a short discussion of the responsibilities of vessel owners/operators to persons on board for various purposes, including our subjects here, those who board and interfere for the purpose of obstructing drillingoperations. With that groundwork laid, we address the issue at hand: what actions vessel owners/operators are allowed to take to defend people, vessels, and operations against these protestors, what general maritime law and statutory privileges are available, and finally, what preemptive action owners/operators can take to prevent interference with, and disruption of, operations during the short Arctic drilling season.