More than a dozen Greenpeace activists scaled tall smokestacks and a construction crane at a Shell oil sands upgrader expansion project northeast of Edmonton on Saturday in the group's latest attempt to call for action on climate change.
It's the third such action by Greenpeace in under a month in Alberta. All the protests were aimed at the province's oil sands industry, which the group accuses of increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
Three out of the 19 protesters from Canada, France, Brazil and Australia were arrested as they tried to gain access to the site, which is still under construction near Fort Saskatchewan, about 15 kilometres northeast of Edmonton. Greenpeace officials said the trio were facing charges of mischief and trespassing.
After gaining entry to the fenced in site early Saturday morning, the remaining protesters donned climbing gear to scale several giant smokestacks, Greenpeace said. They were laden with chains to lock themselves up once they got near the top.
"They're all trained climbers, so they all climbed up these structures. They're locked down and they're set to stay there for a good duration," said Melina Laboucan-Massimo, just a few hours after the protest began. She was among a group of Greenpeace activists stationed outside the upgrader expansion facility, which is still under construction.
After climbing high up on the stacks and crane, the protesters unfurled yellow banners, which read "Climate S.O.S." Video from the action was streamed live on a Greenpeace website.
It featured a helmeted protester, whose face wasn't visible, looking out into the dark, as lights from the massive plant twinkle in the background and smoke belches out of a distant smokestack. He discusses how protesters were trying to figure out a way to safely unfurl their banners.
In another video segment, apparently this time after daybreak, an activist in a climbing harness dangles from a rope as he wrestles to hold up a yellow banner in brisk winds. Two giant storage tanks can be seen far below him.
Phil Vircoe, a Shell spokesman in Calgary, said there were only a handful of employees at the construction site at the time and they were removed from the area.
Operation of the company's neighbouring Scottford petrochemical refinery weren't affected by the Greenpeace protest, he said.
The company's emergency response team and the RCMP were also called in, Mr. Vircoe said.
It wasn't clear how long the protesters would remain.
Corporal Darren Anderson, an RCMP spokesman, said no further arrests had been made by late Saturday afternoon.
"Our main concern is for the safety of everyone involved. They have access to a construction site which has some dangers associated to it," he said.
He said it should be noted that the protesters weren't using any violence to make their point.
"Our main strategy is to keep the open communication going and...to bring this to a resolution as quickly as possible," Cpl. Anderson said.
Earlier this week, about 20 Greenpeace protesters were arrested after they tried to block shipments of bitumen to a Suncor plant near Fort McMurray, in northern Alberta.
They scaled a bridge, and took to canoes and kayaks to string a banner across the Athabasca River. About 10 protesters were arrested while occupying a conveyor belt used to take oily sand to the company's upgrader facility.
And on Sept. 15, Greenpeace protesters snuck onto a Shell oil sands mine site near Fort McMurray and chained themselves to giant earth-moving equipment. That protest ended peacefully after 31 hours with an agreement there would be no charges or arrests.
Premier Ed Stelmach expressed disgust at the actions of the environmentalists.
"We're coddling people that are breaking the law," he told CTV News. "They're trespassing, getting on site, putting people on the jobsite at risk."
"Overall, we're disappointed that Greenpeace chooses to use this unsafe and confrontational tactics, but that's something that they do," Mr. Vircoe said.
"Greenpeace has been targeting the entire industry and have been taking unsafe and outrageous actions to breach security at various sites to promote their misleading campaign."
A safety investigation was under way at the Scottford site to try and determine how the protesters got in, he said.
He defended the company's environmental practices, saying they work to responsibly extract a resource that is in high demand.
" People need to understand that Shell is developing an important resource that society needs and we're doing it safely and responsibly and in compliance with all the laws and regulations in this province," he said.
The company's Mildred Lake mine is expanding to add another 100,000 barrels of production to its existing 155,000 barrel facility near Fort McMurray. The upgrader in Fort Saskatchewan is also being expanded to handle that extra capacity, Mr. Vircoe said.
Mike Hudema, another Greenpeace activist who was outside the Shell Scottford plant, said they took this latest action to get the attention of officials attending a United Nations climate conference in Bangkok.
Negotiators are working on a pact that will replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. But Mr. Hudema said Greenpeace had heard those negotiations may be deadlocked, so this latest action in Alberta was a way to give them a nudge.
"It's really an S.O.S to the world that we need to turn away from toxic developments like the tar sands, especially this upgrading facility," he said.