7 Questions For ... Greenpeace Activist Hannah McHardy | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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7 Questions For ... Greenpeace Activist Hannah McHardy


Published June 14, 2011 at 12:23 p.m.

Sterling College graduate Hannah McHardy is back home after her high-stakes hijacking of a deep-water oil rig off the coast of Greenland — and she's got a story to tell.

McHardy, 25, and another Greenpeace activist spent four days inside an "Arctic survival pod" underneath the oil rig earlier this month, protesting the planned drilling by Scottish company Cairn Energy. Using a spotty Internet signal from a nearby support vessel, she tweeted, blogged and v-logged the action live and gave media interviews using a satellite phone.

The stand-off ended on June 2 when the Danish navy arrested McHardy  and her cohort (pictured) for trespassing inside an "exclusion zone" around the rig.

Now back in the U.S.A., Seven Days caught up with McHardy by phone from her home in New York, where she's recuperating from an Arctic cold.

SEVEN DAYS: Last we knew you were in Vermont researching bioremediation at an old asbestos mine in Lowell. How in the world did you end up in an Arctic survival pod on an oil rig near Greenland?

HANNAH MCHARDY: I had previously sailed on a Greenpeace ship when I was 18 as a volunteer deck hand, so I was already plugged into the organization. An old friend from Greenpeace got in touch and said they needed someone with some technical climbing skills for their Arctic campaign.

I've been following the action as Greenpeace has been confronting oil rigs that are doing really risky exploratory drilling off the coast of Greenland. To me, it's insanity that, as we see this dramatic retreat of Arctic sea ice, oil companies like Cairn Energy are using it as an opportunity to rush in and extract more of the fossil fuels that are causing climate change in the first place. They're literally trying to fight fire with gasoline. When I got that phone call, it was a no brainer.

SD: Tell me about your journey to the Arctic. What was that like?

HM: I boarded the ship in England and we had been sailing through really intense Arctic storms in the North Atlantic for about a month when we found the rig. While I was in the Arctic, I really experienced firsthand the extreme weather, icebergs and highly remote location that poses unprecedented challenges to any oil-spill response that would happen. When we found the rig, we launched a few of the inflatable boats we kept on the ship and just went right up to the rig and climbed up on the ladder. We were able to set some anchors on the underbelly of the rig just a few meters from where the drill bit was and hoisted the Arctic survival pod onto the rig.

SD: And nobody tried to stop you?

HM: Well, the [Danish] navy was there and they were definitely protecting the interest of the oil rig. But they weren't able to stop us. At the time we put the pod up, we weren't actually doing anything illegal because the rig was still in transit to the drill site and the exclusion zone around the drill site could only be implemented once they had hit their drill site. So, legally, the navy couldn't do anything to stop us.

SD: How big was the pod and what were you doing all day when you were in it?

HM: The best comparison would be the size of a two-person dome tent. It was pretty well insulated, so, as long as we kept the hatches closed, we would start to warm up a little bit from our body heat. But mostly it was sort of like living in a styrofoam cooler. It was snowing on and off the whole time we were up there.

SD: How were you blogging and making videos? Where was your Internet connection coming from?

HM: The Esperanza, the Greenpeace ship, stayed pretty nearby, like, just outside the 500-meter exclusion zone that was established. So we had a small laptop and a directional antenna that we had to frustratingly point towards the ships as they moved back and forth, and we would lose our connection. So a lot of time was spent just trying to keep that Internet connection so we could send out tweets to the public about what we were doing and why we were there. We had a satellite phone as well that we used to call the Cairn Energy headquarters and tell them why we were hanging from their oil rig and asking if they could publish their oil-spill response plan.

SD: Tell me about the apprehension. You were there four days and then the Danish navy moved in and seized the pod?

HM: The Danish navy launched two [ships] that came right under the pod and then two of the navy [men] repelled right down on top of the pod. And they dropped in really quickly, made a really loud noise on the roof of the pod that startled us so the first thing I said to them was, "Whoa, you guys are quick!" It was all really cordial. We were all making jokes and laughing.

They stuck their heads into the pod and said, "You guys have a nice little place there." And then they told us we were under arrest for being inside a drilling exclusion zone. They hoisted us up onto the rig. We didn't resist arrest or want any drama. They put us on the helicopter back to Greenland and gave us a window seat — which was nice.

It was all a bit surreal, flying over the mountains of Greenland in the Arctic midnight sun. They took us first to the police station in Nuuk, Greenland, then transferred us to the prison. We went in front of a court a couple days later and were charged with trespassing and fined 20,000 Danish kroner, which is the equivalent of about $3800. And they got us on the first available flight out of Greenland. I'm not allowed back in Greenland for a year.

SD: What struck you the most about being in that part of the world?

HM: There was an amazing moment when I was in the pod hanging. In between all these ships out there were a couple of pilot whales that came up, and breaching in the water and spouting from the water below. And Luke [McHardy's fellow Greenpeace activist] and I stood with our heads hanging out of the pod and looking around and the intensity of that moment was pretty apparent. We were having this ultimate Arctic showdown over who's going to be able to claim this area.

Bonus Questions!

SD: What did you hope to accomplish? And did you accomplish it?

HM: A spill in the Arctic would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to contain and clean up.  So, during the four days that we hung from the [oil rig], no drilling occurred and that was four days that an Arctic oil spill was prevented. With the media we got during that, we were able to shine an international spotlight on companies like Cairn Energy, whose failure to get off dirty energy quick enough is leading them to gamble with this pristine Arctic ecosystem. So, after the Danish navy removed us, it was just a few days later that 18 more Greenpeace activists climbed right back onto the rig and demanded to see Cairn's oil-spill response plan.

SD: How do you answer critics who say your action was an illegal stunt, and you should have fought this battle through legal and regulatory channels?

HM: Throughout history, activists have been criticized and harassed for civil disobedience. But people seem to forget how crucial a role it's played in the progress of our country, especially. From the Boston Tea Party to the eight-hour work day to the civil-rights movement, all of these have involved dedicated people who are willing to break the law.

Especially when it comes to climate change, waiting until the politicians and the corporations connect the dots of widespread drought, wildfires, extreme weather, flooding and shrinking of the polar ice caps, it will be too late to do anything about it. So, for me, the magnitude of this moment is very clear.

All Photos © Steve Morgan/Greenpeace and © Greenpeace