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Fears that the oil industry is ill-prepared to operate in the hostile conditions of the high north were reinforced in December when a floating oil rig capsized off eastern Russia, killing more than 50 workers. Although that accident happened outside the Arctic region, it underscored the challenges of drilling farther north, where ice ridges are yards deep and storms are frequent.

Industry cites safety concerns

Oil industry officials say they are taking the necessary precautions to conduct safe operations in the Arctic.

Cairn Energy, the Scottish company with platforms off Greenland that were targeted by Greenpeace protests in 2010 and 2011, is not drilling in the Arctic this year. By all accounts, that has nothing to do with Greenpeace but rather to the failure of the initial drilling.

Asked what, if any, impact the Greenpeace actions had on the company’s plans for Greenland, Cairn spokeswoman Linda Bain referred to the company’s second-quarter report, which does not say anything about Greenpeace.

Shell, which also has come into Greenpeace’s cross hairs for plans to drill off Alaska, also refused to discuss the group. However, Shell takes Greenpeace’s Arctic campaign seriously.

In March, Shell won an injunction by a U.S. judge ordering Greenpeace to stay more than a half-mile away from its drilling rigs in U.S. territorial waters.

A month earlier, New Zealand actress Lucy Lawless of the TV series “Xena: Warrior Princess” and six other Greenpeace activists climbed aboard one of the drilling rigs before it left for Alaska. They later pleaded guilty to trespassing charges and are awaiting sentencing.

Greenpeace activists also climbed aboard icebreakers contracted by Shell as the ships left the Baltic Sea. The Greenpeace ship Esperanza is shadowing Shell’s drilling vessels as they head north to bore exploratory wells in Alaska’s Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

“We will follow the oil industry into the Arctic,” Mr. Ayliffe said. “This is such an important campaign. We’re not going to let them off the hook that easily.”

Although Greenpeace sometimes is accused of being alarmist, environment and climate activists in general applaud the group for calling attention to global warming issues. Their activities don’t always resonate well, however, with some of the indigenous communities in the Arctic.