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Shell No! Enviro Advocates Say No To Arctic Drilling

image courtesy shellno.org
image courtesy shellno.org

#ShellNo, #YouShellNotPass, #PaddleinSeattle. 

The hashtags were fun, but the protests May 16-18 in Seattle disputing Shell oil’s plans for Arctic drilling were calling attention to a serious issue — Big Oil and global climate change. The Obama administration gave conditional approval for Shell to drill in the Arctic earlier this month.

Shell protesters included well-known environmental groups such as Greenpeace and 350.org, grassroots organizations such as Rising Tide as well as indigenous peoples. Activists converged upon Seattle and Puget Sound for three days of protests, which included surrounding the behemoth Polar Pioneer drilling rig with kayaks and canoes (kayaktivists), rallies and marches. 

Lauren Regan of Eugene-based Civil Liberties Defense Center traveled to Seattle to provide legal support and know-your-rights training, though she says no arrests were made.

Activists say they are worried about the potential for spills and accidents in pristine icy Alaskan waters, and even more concerned that the drilling is set for the already melting Arctic. Many cite a study in the January issue of the journal Nature that says “to keep the climate somewhat safe and relatively stable, 82 percent of the world’s coal reserves, half of all natural gas, and every drop of Arctic oil must be left in the ground.”

Port of Seattle commissioners approved Royal Dutch Shell’s presence in January, but the mayor and the city council have opposed it. Regan says the mayor participated in the kayak protest. Regan herself kayaked to the base of the massive Polar Pioneer and says it was “nauseating to see how humongous it was — it looks like something that could wreck civilizations.”  

The Polar Pioneer will be loaded at the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5 — where protesters gathered and blockaded May 18. 

According to media reports, the Seattle Department of Planning and Development determined that Terminal 5 is not permitted for oil equipment maintenance. Regan says the port may be fined if it doesn’t acquire the proper permit.

Former Eugenean and current Seattle resident McKenzie Funk points out in his May 18 New York Times Magazine piece, “Shell Oil’s Cold Calculations for a Warming World,” that the corporation’s previous attempt to find oil in the Arctic was disastrous — the drilling rig Kulluk wrecked on its voyage there. Funk writes that one of Shell’s planning scenarios shows that “only when climatic chaos breaks out does society take it seriously, and by then great damage has already been done.”

According to Funk, along with the Polar Pioneer, a drill ship called the Noble Discoverer will attempt the 2,000-mile journey to the Arctic. He writes that, previously, the Discoverer “was at the center of eight felony pollution charges. Last month, the vessel failed another Coast Guard inspection in Hawaii.”

Regan says CLDC has reached out to and worked with several climate justice campaigns and cites Shell for its “history of absolutely no qualms about destroying communities, the environment and killing humans for profit.”

This past weekend was a “practice run,” Regan says. There is a narrow window for Shell to get the rigs to the Arctic, she says, and Rising Tide and others are committed to making sure the rigs won’t make it to the Arctic Circle.