It took one call from the crew on Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya rig to have an armed squad of Russia’s special forces there within an hour. The very next day, Russian agents illegally boarded the Arctic Sunrise and arrested all 30 people on board.
The group of 28 activists and two journalists are now being held in Russian jail on trumped-up hooliganism charges, for peaceful protest against drilling for oil in the Arctic.
Complicit in their arrest is the most powerful company that most people have never heard of.
So just who are Gazprom?
Gazprom is the largest oil and gas company in the world. Around 10% of Russian state revenue comes from Gazprom, which is majority owned by the government. Their strong links to government are clear even in spite of the total lack of transparency that surrounds the internal mechanisms of Russian politics.
But even a giant like Gazprom has its weak spots. And we hit a raw nerve by protesting at one of the weakest spots of all – the Prirazlomnaya rig.
Preparations for the Prirazlomnaya rig began in 2001, but to date not a drop of oil has been pumped. This year, as they have consistently claimed in the past, Gazprom stated that extraction would begin, and as yet there is still no sign of oil production.
Gazprom needs to make this embarrassingly expensive and unsafe failure turn a profit. And they need help to do it. But just who would join up with a company with such a disastrous safety record in the Arctic?
Shell is on the cusp of signing an important deal with Gazprom. If it goes through, Shell will give Gazprom the money, technology and expertise that they need to start drilling, potentially becoming the first company to produce oil commercially from above the Arctic ice line, where spills are next to impossible to clean up.
As a prospective partner of Gazprom, Shell has the power to pressure them into securing the release of the Arctic 30. But by staying silent, it looks like Shell is prepared to put its relationship with Gazprom above the release of these prisoners of conscience.
So how about some good news now?
Gazprom is not all-powerful. Like any company, it will respond to concerns raised by its customers and business partners, particularly if it risks losing them.
Gazprom has the key, and Shell can make them use it.