Six activists from Greenpeace scaled Gazprom's oil platform in the Arctic early on Friday and aimed to stay there to protest against the Russian energy giant's plans to drill in a fragile area, the environmental group said.
The activists, including Greenpeace's global chief Kumi Naidoo, climbed the platform at the Prirazlomnoye oil field after reaching it in inflatable speedboats from a Greenpeace ship in the vicinity at about 4 a.m. (0000 GMT).
'Wet and cold'
"Wet, cold, sitting on the side of an oil platform in the Russian Arctic," Naidoo wrote on his Twitter micro-blog after Greenpeace said activists "have taken up positions" on the platform and had enough supplies for several days.
The Prirazlomnoye field, Russia's first Arctic offshore oil development, has been plagued by delays, cost overruns and platform construction difficulties, with crude now expected to flow at the turn of the year.
"The only way to prevent a catastrophic oil spill from happening in this unique environment is to permanently ban all drilling now," Greenpeace quoted Naidoo as saying from the platform in the Pechora Sea.
Gazprom said the activists had violated a 500-meter navigation security zone around the platform in the Pechora Sea, a southern part of the Barents Sea off Russia's north coast.
'Constructive dialogue' refused
"They were invited to ascend to the platform to conduct a constructive dialogue" but refused, the company said in a brief statement. It said work was continuing on the platform as usual.
Prirazlomnoye is estimated to hold reserves of 526 million barrels and success in launching Arctic oil exploration is seen vital to sustaining Russia's long-term status as the world's top oil producer.
But environmental campaigners say the Arctic's extreme conditions - remoteness, fragile ecosystems, darkness, sub-zero temperatures, ice and high winds - are likely to hamper any emergency operations in case of an oil spill.
A global sanctuary?
Greenpeace plans to promote soon a resolution at the U.N. General Assembly that would declare the Arctic a global sanctuary to prevent any oil drilling as well as unsustainable fishing there.
A similar sanctuary in Antarctica was created 20 years ago when the mining industry was banned from operating there.
BP, Shell and Total have also started or plan to start drilling for oil and gas in Arctic regions, spurred by high commodity prices and concerns about future energy security. The Arctic is estimated to hold at least 32 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas reserves and the region is becoming more accessible as global warming melts sea ice.