Shell oil rig departs for the Arctic

Photo credit: Reuters / Jason Redmond.
By Anders Lorenzen

Surrounded by a fleet of kayaks, Shell’s oil drilling rig the Polar Pioneer departed the port of Seattle on Monday for the Alaskan Arctic, despite the fact the company is still missing the final permits to conduct its Arctic drilling operations.


The Port of Seattle has in recent months been housing Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet; something which has been met with great disastifaction from Seattleites, environmentalists, Seattle council members and even the Mayor of Seattle, Ed Murray. When the Polar Pioneer arrived in Seattle in May, opponents welcomed the rig with kayaks displaying signs saying ‘no to Arctic drilling’, just as they did when the rig left the port on Monday, resulting in 24 arrests including Mike O’Brien, a Seattle council member.


The Arctic is seen as the final frontier left to conquer for the oil industry. In a time of volatile oil prices and an agreed focus on cutting emissions and reduce our reliance on oil, Shell is the only oil company currently exploring for oil in the Arctic. Led by Greenpeace, environmental groups are criticising Shell for wanting to explore for oil in the fragile Arctic, where they state an oil spill will be impossible to clean up.


The battle for Seattle
Last month I spoke to local campaigner, Kurtis Dengler, who has been working with Greenpeace on the #NoShell campaign. Curtis started working on this campaign as soon as he heard that the Port of Seattle would be housing Shell’s drilling fleet and believes local people oppose what’s going on, not only because Arctic drilling is destructive to the planet, but because the Port of Seattle have shown disregard for public opinion. According to Curtis, the port neglected to be transparent about their negotiation to house Shell. Curtis insisted that the fight will go on, even when, if predicted, Shell makes it to drill in the Arctic this year. If Shell’s rigs can not be housed in Seattle on their return, this would be a great inconvenience to them as Seattle is the the perfect location for them, with the best climate conditions such as cover for windy conditions. Ports further up the coast do not have the same infrastructure.


Political tensions
Politically it has also been confusing; it took a long time for the current Mayor to make a statement on the plans in which he opposed housing Shell in the port but said but that he can’t do much about it as he has no authority over the Port of Seattle.


Several Seattle council members are also opposed to Shell’s presence, as is Washington State Governor Jay Inslee. However, State Senator Maria Cantwell, despite saying that she opposes Arctic drilling, did not want to sign a letter signed by 18 US senators opposing Arctic drilling.


Shell insists Arctic drilling is safe
Curtis Smith, a Shell spokesperson has in an email sent to Reuters said that “We remain committed to operating in a safe, environmentally responsible manner and look forward to exploring our Chukchi leases in the weeks to come”.


But environmentalists are unlikely to agree. Back on the waterfront in Seattle one anonymous activist told me, before preparing for some ‘kayactivist’ training, that he was actually pleased that the oil rig was in the port of Seattle, stating in no uncertain terms that: ‘I want to prevent the oil rig from going out, I want to keep it here in town, I don’t want it near the Arctic, I think this is the best place it could have come. Arctic drilling is a horrid idea, I think it would end life on the planet as we know it.’


Upon its departure from Seattle, the rig entered Canadian waters, and on Wednesday Greenpeace performed a direct action on the Polar Pioneer near Vancouver Island in Canada. Inflatable boats with swimmers holding banners set off from the Greenpeace ship the MY Esperanza where it intercepted the Polar Pioneer.


The actor Jane Fonda has become the latest celebrity to join Greenpeace’s Save the Arctic campaign; last weekend she addressed 5000 people at a Greenpeace organised event speaking up against Arctic drilling stating: ‘’When Shell insists on capitalizing off a climate crisis of its own making and forces past the more than 7 million people who oppose their Arctic plans — then it is up to us, to individual people, to put our bodies in the way.’’

The energy industry estimates that the Arctic contains 20% of the world’s undiscovered oil resources.


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