PASADENA, Calif. (CN) – Since Shell has stopped drilling for oil off Alaska’s coast, the Ninth Circuit put a pin Friday in longtime litigation with environmentalists who oppose the exploration.
Greenpeace had wanted the federal appeals court to overturn an injunction that blocked its members from getting too close to the vessels Shell had deployed in the Chukchi Sea. As with past court orders it has faced, the injunction on appeal here was limited to the current Arctic drilling season.
While the appeal was pending, however, Shell abruptly suspended its Arctic oil exploration in September.
The move came two months after Greenpeace activists dangled themselves from the St. Johns Bridge in Portland, Oregon, and used kayaks to block one of Shell’s Chukchi Sea-bound icebreakers from leaving port on the Willamette River.
Greenpeace faces court sanctions and fines from the Coast Guard in connection to the protest, but the proceedings have been put on hold pending the appeal.
Citing Shell’s drilling suspension, and the fact that the injunction in question expired back in November, the Ninth Circuit found Friday that Greenpeace no longer has a basis to appeal the injunction.
“Because the only order on appeal has now expired, we are unable to grant any effectual relief to either party,” Judge Wallace Tashima wrote for a three-member panel.
Greenpeace claimed that the bridge-related sanctions saved its appeal, but Tashima called the argument “unavailing.”
“Because the contempt proceeding at issue here is coercive, it cannot rescue the appeal from mootness,” the ruling states.
The sanctions were meant “to coerce Greenpeace into compliance with the preliminary injunction,” Tashima explained.
Since the preliminary injunction here “expired and will not be renewed,” however, Tashima said “there is no longer anything left for the district court to coerce Greenpeace to do.”
“Enforcing the … monetary sanction would only serve to punish Greenpeace for its past contumacious actions,” the ruling continues.
because “only compensatory contempt proceedings survive the termination of an underlying injunction,” and the order in this case was only a coercive civil contempt sanction.
And in this case, Tashima said, “a coercive sanction would no longer serve any purpose.”
“Once the injunction has expired, there is no longer anything left to coerce,” he said.
Attorneys for Greenpeace at Pawa Law Group, of Newton, Mass., and for Shell at Stoel Rives, of Seattle, have not returned emails seeking comment.
Shell’s exploration off the coast of Alaska cost it about $7 billion, and analysts at Deutsche Bank told Reuters ditching the project could cost the company as much as $9 billion.
The company reportedly pulled out of the Chukchi Sea after finding too little crude to make the operation profitable – particularly in light of the dangers involved, tight federal regulations and the plunge in crude oil prices over the last year.
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