British oil company Cairn Energy has filed legal papers with a Dutch court to fine Greenpeace €2m (£1.76m) a day if the campaign group disrupts its oil drilling operations in the Arctic.
The draconian legal move, that would bankrupt the environment group, comes after Danish marines boarded Cairn's giant Leiv Eiriksson drilling platform early on Thursday. They evicted two Greenpeace climbers who had spent four days in a survival pod attached to the drilling platform.
The company has previously claimed in interviews that the four-day Greenpeace occupation had "no impact on its schedule". However, Cairn says in the court documents: "The defendants are preventing the exploitation of the platform. All delay of the platforms during its journey to the respective drilling locations and each hindrance during the drilling activities will lead to delay of the operations. Plaintiffs estimate the damage resulting from delay to those drilling activities at least $4m (£2.5m) per day. The urgent character of the plaintiffs demand thus speaks for itself."
Greenpeace reacted with defiance, saying it would fight the case. "This oil company has been hiding behind the Greenland government and the Danish navy, and now it's trying to use the Dutch courts. It can hire all the lawyers it likes, but it can't hide the huge risks it's taking with this beautiful and fragile environment. Cairn is threatening us with a huge legal hammer now, it wants to shut down our campaign to kick the oil companies out of the Arctic, but we'll challenge them and their lawyers every step of way. The stakes are high here, the Arctic is in the front line of climate change. We won't stop shining a light on this dangerous deep water drilling operation in the Arctic."
The legal summons, which will be heard on Monday in Amsterdam where the Greenpeace ship Esperanza is registered, asks the judge to "… order defendants to cease all unlawful activities within one hour of handing down the judgment in this matter against the platforms and to order their employees, their aids or their sympathisers to cease all unlawful activities against the platforms, to allow the safe and unhindered exploitation of the platforms, at a penalty of €2m for each day or part thereof during which defendants are not complying with this order."
Cairn is spending around $1bn over the next two years seeking oil in Arctic waters, but can only work during a short three-month window when weather conditions allow exploration. It is thought to be paying $500,000 a day to hire the Leiv Eiriksson, one of the largest oil platforms in the world.
Cairn last night denied it was trying to bankrupt Greenpeace, saying that it was seeking to prevent further interference with its work in the Arctic. "Cairn respects the rights of individuals and organisations to express their views in a safe and peaceful manner but would be concerned with anything that presents a safety risk for those involved and the operations," the company said in a statement.
Oil companies have a long history of challenging protest groups in the courts but have mostly backed off after facing bad publicity. BP sued Greenpeace and four of its senior staff for $2.3m in 1997 after activists occupied an oil platform, but later dropped the case.