Seattle 'kayaktavists' plan civil disobedience against Shell Oil

Shell Oil rigs are in Seattle, on their way to Alaska for offshore drilling. Hundreds of protesters paddling nearby are planning acts of civil disobedience in hopes of preventing damage to the Arctic and the effects of climate change.

Daniella Beccaria/
Activists who oppose Royal Dutch Shell's plans to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean gather for the "Paddle in Seattle" protest Saturday where Shell's Polar Pioneer drilling rig is docked.

They’ve come by the hundreds to Seattle’s Elliott Bay – colorful kayaks and canoes, paddle boards and sailboats – to protest Royal Dutch Shell’s plan to drill in the Arctic Ocean. Looming large nearby is Shell’s Polar Pioneer drilling rig, the first of two oil-drilling rigs the oil giant plans to use this summer as it explores for oil off Alaska’s northern coast.

So far, the “kayaktavists” and other protesters – acting under the “sHellNo” coalition of “activists, artists, and noisemakers” – have kept their legal distance (100 yards or so) as the US Coast Guard and law enforcement agencies keep an eye on them.

But on Monday, some are vowing, they will escalate their efforts to include acts of civil disobedience – perhaps an attempt to scale the 400-foot long, 300-foot tall rig, soon to be joined by the Noble Discoverer rig, which arrived at the Port of Everett last week and is slated to join the Polar Pioneer at the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5.

On Sunday afternoon, has scheduled “NonViolent Direct Action Training” for Monday’s “Mass Direct Action.”

“Prepare to take nonviolent direct action to protect the Arctic and the Climate,” reads the online announcement. “This 2 hour training will prepare you with tips on how to stay safe and grounded through action, and know your rights in civil disobedience scenarios.”

Seattle is known for rigorous, sometimes destructive protest – most memorably the “Battle in Seattle” in 1999 when activists, including out-of-town anarchists, destroyed property and fought with police during a meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO). More recently, nine officers were injured and sixteen protesters were arrested during May Day demonstrations this month.

This week’s flotilla protest against Shell is aimed at what activists say is the danger of damage to the Arctic environment as the result of oil exploration and drilling, as well as to the longer-term impact of climate change tied to the consumption of fossil fuels.

“Why would we invest in an energy source that scientists say is leading us to catastrophe?” said Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA.

For its part, Shell asserts that the Arctic holds about 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 13 percent of its oil.

“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 website states. “Developing Arctic resources could be essential to securing energy supplies for the future, but it will mean balancing economic, environmental and social challenges.”

Shell's last effort to do exploratory drilling in the Arctic Ocean also left from Seattle, but it ended badly when the Noble Discoverer and the Kulluk were stranded by equipment failures in terrible weather.

Shell cleared a major bureaucratic hurdle last week when the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), after taking public comments and reviewing voluminous reports, approved the multi-year exploration plan.

“We have taken a thoughtful approach to carefully considering potential exploration in the Chukchi Sea, recognizing the significant environmental, social and ecological resources in the region and establishing high standards for the protection of this critical ecosystem, our Arctic communities, and the subsistence needs and cultural traditions of Alaska Natives,” BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper said in a statement. “As we move forward, any offshore exploratory activities will continue to be subject to rigorous safety standards.”

If exploratory drilling goes well, Shell plans to invest billions more in infrastructure to open this new frontier, building pipelines under the ocean and onto the tundra of Alaska's North Slope, along with roads, air strips, and other facilities.

But not if activists are successful with the civil disobedience planned for Monday and directed at the Shell rig now looming among the fleet of kayaks and other craft in the waters off Seattle.

The report includes material from the Associated Press.

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