Greenpeace stops Shell Oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean, 2012


To stop Shell from drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean in the winter of 2012

Time period

4 February, 2012 to 7 September, 2012


United States
New Zealand

Location City/State/Province

Alaska (US), New Plymouth (NZ)

Location Description

The Arctic Ocean--The Chukchi Sea and the Beaufort Sea
Jump to case narrative


Greenpeace (Kumi Naidoo), Lucy Lawless


Yes Lab, activist Dorli Rainey

External allies

Not known

Involvement of social elites

Celebrity signatories on a petition


Royal Dutch Shell (oil company)

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Not known

Campaigner violence

None known

Repressive Violence

None known





Group characterization

Greenpeace is a longstanding professional environmental activism organization

Groups in 1st Segment

Greenpeace International

Groups in 3rd Segment

Yes Lab

Segment Length

One month, ten days

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

5 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


3 out of 3 points

Total points

9 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

The campaign ended Shell's drilling in September 2012, but not for good.

Database Narrative

In February 2012, Greenpeace launched an initiative to stop Royal Dutch Shell’s oil drilling project in the Arctic Ocean. They claimed that Shell was not prepared for a spill, with the nearest port to their drilling location over a thousand nautical miles away. Greenpeace also protested drilling in the Arctic because the region is only accessible as a result of climate change, produced by greenhouse gas emissions that are enabled by Shell and the oil industry. 

On 4 February 2012, Greenpeace worked with actress Lucy Lawless and a team of activists to interfere with Royal Dutch Shell’s plans to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean. Lawless and seven others boarded the rig “Noble Discoverer” in New Plymouth, New Zealand. They climbed up the tower of the rig and remained there for seventy-seven hours. 

On 7 February the campaigners were charged and convicted of burglary. In the month following the incident on “Noble Discoverer”, 300,000 people wrote letters to Shell, urging them to abandon their plans to drill in the Arctic. 

On 29 March, Shell filed a legal injunction against Greenpeace.  Alaskan judge Sharon Gleason ratified the statement, which banned Greenpeace USA from organizing any protests within five hundred meters of Shell’s drilling rigs or associated ships. The injunction was valid for a six month period. Shell argued that Greenpeace endangered not only the crews on rigs, but also its own campaigners. 

On 29 April, Greenpeace began an advertisement campaign disguised as a campaign conducted by Shell. They created an elaborate website with the Yes Lab activist duo that parodied Shell’s own website. The parody used slogans and images, holding a contest for the best reader submissions. Almost 10,000 people submitted ideas, most of which held hostile undercurrents towards Shell’s arctic endeavor. At its peak, the website had two million page views in a week. Greenpeace also created Facebook and twitter accounts under the banner “Arctic Ready” that gained huge followings.

On 8 June, a deceptive video was posted online which convincingly depicted a party for Shell executives. In the video, ice floated over a bowl of cola, representing oil. A miniature rig pumped cola into the guests’ cups. But the mechanism failed and sprayed cola all over several of the Shell executives. The star of the video’s cast was 84-year-old Occupy activist Dorli Rainey. The video was played 500,000 times in 24 hours. After a long string of publicized mishaps in the Arctic Ocean—most notably when the company set an unmanned oil rig loose into the open ocean—the “Arctic Ready” campaign received substantial media attention.  Most of the public believed that these advertisements and the website were actually being supported by Shell, and the video was of an actual event at a Shell gathering. 

That same day, Greenpeace announced that it would send two manned submarines to trail Shell endeavors in the Arctic. A Greenpeace ship, the Esperanza, was also dispatched to trail Shell’s fleet. 

On 22 June, Lucy Lawless worked with Greenpeace again to take symbolic action against Shell. She helped collected one million signatures to write on a scroll, which was then placed in an indestructible container and sent to the bottom of the ocean floor directly below the North Pole. The signatures included nine Oscar Winners, ten Golden Globe winners, and five Grammy winners. 

On 19 July, Greenpeace mounted a billboard outside Shell’s offices in Houston. The billboard portrayed a picture of a polar bear and an arctic fox underscored with “You can’t run your SUV on cute. Let’s Go,” and Shell’s distinct logo. The billboard caused a major traffic jam. Later that day, Greenpeace claimed responsibility for the entire “Arctic Ready” campaign. 

The hoax continued for another month, but Shell did not press charges. Two million people signed Greenpeace’s petition to stop drilling in the Arctic in 2012, and on September 17, Shell officially announced that they would abandon their Arctic project for the year.  


The campaign against Arctic drilling in 2012 inspired the campaign "Save the Arctic," which petitions the US government to make US waters in the Arctic a permanent non-drilling zone (2).


Sharp, Cassidy. "Shell abandons 2013 Arctic drilling: Timeline of Greenpeace's Shell Campaign". Greenpeace International "The Witness". 27 February 2013.

Howells, Dan. "Shell granted Legal Injunction Against Greenpeace". Greenpeace International "The Witness".29 March 2012.

"Lucy Lawless Launches Global Campaign to Save the Arctic", Scoop News New Zealand. Auckland, 22 June 2012.

Hargreaves, Steve. "Greenpeace to Monitor Shell Arctic Drilling with Submarines". CNN Money. 8 June 2012.

Bradner, Tim. "Judge Reaffirms, Clarifies Injunction Against Greenpeace on Shell Vessels" Alaska Journal. 30 May 2012.

Stenovic, Timothy. "Shell Arctic Ready Hoax Website By Greenpeace Takes Internet by Storm". Huffington Post. 18 July 2012.

Anderson, Ben. "Shell wins Injunction Against Greenpeace Arctic Drilling Protesters", Alaska Dispatch. 29 March 2012.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Lydia Bailey, 09/02/2013