Actress Lucy Lawless (right) today pleaded guilty to trespassing during a Greenpeace protest in Auckland, New Zealand, back in January. The New Zealand native and five other activists boarded the Noble Discoverer oil-drilling ship — one of two rigs Shell will use to drill in the Arctic beginning this summer — when it was docked in Port Taranaki on New Zealand’s western seaboard. The six protesters stayed aboard the Noble Discoverer for four days perched atop the drilling tower.

Shell is only able to drill in the Arctic because global warming has thinned the ice. Many activists claim that should be a wake-up call to shift away from fossil fuels, not used as an opportunity for oil companies. From Lawless’s blog entry about the protest on Greenpeace.org:

“Instead of seeing the melting of Arctic sea ice as a dire warning to humanity, the oil barons are cynically using it as an invitation to dig up more of the stuff that caused the problem in the first place. This aging rust bucket, the Noble Discoverer (more like the Ignoble Destroyer), is one of the oldest drillships in the world and it will be spearheading Shell’s crazy foray into the dangerous and pristine Arctic.”

The protest was also meant to raise awareness of what would happen if an oil spill were to occur in the icy Arctic waters. A spill in those conditions may require extensive cleanup operations that Shell is not prepared for. And if a spill were to occur during the end of drilling season one year, water would likely freeze over and allow crude oil to continue gushing under the ice for months before cleanup crews could get through the surface.

Shell’s expedition was graded by the U.S. Interior Department and has an approved oil spill response plan. However, as the first company set to drill in the Arctic it is hard to know exactly what problems may occur and how their response plan will fare.

Lawless, best known for her role as Xena: Warrior Princess, will be sentenced in September. She faces a maximum three years of jail time.

Main photo credit: Greenpeace

Secondary photo credit: Gage Skidmore