Activists opposed to drilling for oil in the Arctic plan to launch a flotilla of kayaks and other boats on Seattle's Elliott Bay on Saturday, two days after the arrival of a towering oil rig that is the centerpiece of Shell's Arctic drilling fleet.
The "Paddle in Seattle" — a daylong, family friendly festival in a West Seattle park and an on-the-water protest by "Shell No" kayaktivists — aims to continue the message sent as the Polar Pioneer drilling rig arrived: "Stand up for the climate and say no to Shell's drilling plans."
"This weekend is another opportunity for the people to demand that their voices be heard," Alli Harvey, Alaska representative for the Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign, said in a statement Friday. "Science is as clear as day when it comes to drilling in the Arctic: the only safe place for these dirty fuels is in the ground."
The gathering, hosted by a coalition of groups, is expected to draw thousands both on land and in the water. At the center of the paddle protest will be the "People's Platform," a 4,000-square-foot barge powered by renewable energy, said Jonathon Berman with the Sierra Club.
Just a quarter-mile away from the Seacrest Marine Park sits the 400-foot long, 300-foot tall Polar Pioneer, the first of two oil drilling rigs that Royal Dutch Shell plans to use this summer as it explores for oil off Alaska's northern coast. The second rig, the Noble Discoverer, arrived at the Port of Everett last week and is slated join the Polar Pioneer at the Port of Seattle's Terminal 5 at a later date. Everett port spokeswoman Lisa Lefeber said on Friday that they expect the Noble Discoverer to be there for two to three weeks.
The Arctic holds about 30 percent of the world's undiscovered natural gas and 13 percent of its oil, according to Shell's website.
"This amounts to around 400 billion barrels of oil equivalent, 10 times the total oil and gas produced in the North Sea to date," Shell's site says. "Developing Arctic resources could be essential to securing energy supplies for the future, but it will mean balancing economic, environmental and social challenges."
The activists see it differently, however.
The protesters say it's critical that they take a stand "against dirty fossil fuel projects" and want to put themselves on the front lines in the battle for Arctic oil.
Environmental groups in the Pacific Northwest are sensing a shift in the politics that surround energy production and have mobilized against a series of projects that would transform the region into a gateway for crude oil and coal exports to Asia.
"These proposals have woken a sleeping giant in the Northwest," said Eric de Place, policy director for Sightline Institute, a liberal Seattle think tank. "It has unleashed this very robust opposition movement."
Shell still needs other permits from state and federal agencies, including one to actually drill offshore in the Arctic and another to dispose of wastewater. But it's moving ahead meanwhile, using the Port of Seattle to load drilling rigs and a fleet of support vessels with supplies and personnel before spending the brief Arctic summer in the Chukchi Sea, which stretches north from the Bering Strait between Alaska and Russia
Follow Martha Bellisle at https://twitter.com/marthabellisle