Greenpeace is no stranger to guerrilla performance art. In 2011, the organization commissioned artist John Quigley to go paint Leonardo DaVinci’s “Vitruvian Man” on a massive hunk of melting sea ice nearly 500 miles from the North Pole. But on Wednesday, the environmental organization pulled another daring move–35 activists, some dressed as polar bears, snuck into Shell’s largest Danish refinery at 6 a.m., then scaled its huge smokestacks and oil tanks to unfurl a rebranded Shell logo.
The image, designed by Danish activist Christian Uhlenfelt, shows half the Shell logo as the face of a sad polar bear. “This is to expose the true face of Shell,” one of the Greenpeace activists Helene Hansen, 28, told Co.Exist. “They want to be seen as green and responsible, but unfortunately the truth is that they’ve shown themselves to be completely not able to protect the Arctic,” she says.
In 2012, Shell began exploring the Arctic, looking to tap crude. Though the Arctic remains one of the most fragile and difficult ecosystems to drill–and clean up, were there an accident–Shell began probing the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas (also known as prime polar bear habitat) around Alaska. After a number of safety and environmental violations, a spill containment system screw-up, and an oil rig, the Kulluk, that grounded itself on Alaska’s Sitkalidak Island, Shell announced that it would be taking a break in 2013 to repair and “apply lessons” learned from a harsh Interior Department review.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement announced that rules concerning Shell’s Arctic drilling initiative were near complete, and the company’s emergency “capping stack” system certified. Meanwhile, both ConocoPhillips and Norwegian oil company Statoil hold Chukchi Sea drilling leases, but have not yet broken ground. Statoil announced that it could be drilling as early as 2015, though ConocoPhillips suspended plans to drill in the Arctic in 2014. According to energy blog FuelFix, oil companies may share equipment as they pursue Arctic drilling.
“Shell is number one in the Arctic right now, and it looks like all the other companies are looking to see what Shell finds,” Hansen, who also scaled a Shell oil tanker last year in Istanbul, says. “Our hope and goal is that if Shell stays out of it, then all of the other companies will stay out of it. We’ll continue on the path against Shell until they agree to stay out of the Arctic.”
Shell did not return a call for comment by press time.