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In Anti-Oil Protest, Greenpeace Uses Rock Perch as Legal Claim

Huddled in a capsule atop a tiny island activists protest plans to drill under sea for oil and gas

Three environmental activists have started living in a tiny solar survival capsule on a volcanic outcrop 290 miles off the west coast of Scotland.

With only seabirds for company, they are bidding to halt oil exploration in the deep Atlantic Ocean.

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The two men and a woman say exploiting oil reserves in the area known as the Atlantic Frontier will add dangerously to the greenhouse effect and create havoc among the region's marine life.

Their protest began Tuesday, when a helicopter belonging to the environmental-action group Greenpeace lowered them onto Rockall, which stands only about 70 feet across and 65 feet high and is regularly lashed by 90-foot waves.

Their 12-foot-by-6-foot capsule is secured to a ledge with steel pins. It has solar- and wind-powered computing and communications equipment. The trio say they will stay put until Britain, which claims Rockall as its territory, orders a halt to the search for oil and gas in surrounding waters.

Britain's Offshore Operators' Association, representing companies drilling in the North Atlantic, says their protest as futile. Association spokesman Andrew Searle says the protesters are "trivializing the issues," making "unrealistic demands," and asking people to "move back to the Stone Age."

But Matthew Spencer, a Greenpeace spokesman, says that if the British government does not suspend oil and gas exploration on the Atlantic Frontier, his organization will take it to Scotland's High Court.

Greenpeace intends to argue that, as well as contributing to global warming, oil exploitation in the area will damage the marine environment. Chris Rose, another Greenpeace activist, describes the Atlantic Frontier as "a motorway for migrating whales" and claims that drilling for oil would do "damage to 800 marine species."

Britain's legal claim to Rockall and the waters around it was established in 1955 when a party from a ship of the Royal Navy landed there and ran up the Union Jack flag. At the time, there were concerns that the Soviet Union would claim the rock and use it to spy on missile tests.

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Thirty years later, Tom McClean, a former British commando, spent six weeks on Rockall in a steel box, claiming that he was trying to raise money for charity. Mr. McClean admitted this week that his real intention had been to reassert Britain's claim to the rock and that the Royal Navy had helped him during his stay on the island.

"By then it was obvious that the fishing grounds around Rockall were extremely valuable, and it was becoming clear also that huge oil and gas reserves lay beneath the seabed," he said in a radio interview.

GREENPEACE claims that as many as 30 oil companies are prospecting in the Atlantic Frontier. British Petroleum (BP) and Royal Dutch Shell have invested 550 million ($900 million) in the Foinaven field, 100 miles west of Scotland's Shetland Islands. A BP spokesman says the 95,000 barrels a day expected to flow from Foinaven would replace falling production in the North Sea.

Keith Webster of Conoco says oil and gas from the Atlantic Frontier would be of "great importance" to the British economy, noting that some 300,000 British jobs depend on the offshore oil industry. Mr. Webster estimates that oil and gas worth 138 billion lies beneath the region's seabed.

Says Greenpeace's Rose: "The government claims to be taking steps to protect the environment, yet it is allowing the oil industry to add to the greenhouse effect."

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