When Royal Dutch Shell decided to move ahead with its plan to dock a massive Arctic drilling rig in the Port of Seattle — despite failing to obtain necessary permits from the city — a group local paddlers took action by taking to the water. More than a dozen kayakers met the 400-foot Polar Pioneer in Elliott Bay on Thursday with signs reading “sHellNo.org Arctic Drilling = Climate Chaos,” as tugs pulled it in from nearby Port Angeles, Wash.
And now, as the Obama administration’s tentative approval of oil drilling along the Alaskan coast continues to spark protests, this group of Seattle-area paddlers is planning a larger, direct action against the oil giant on Saturday.
Over the last month, kayakers have been training fellow protesters in rescue and water safety techniques in preparation for this larger action, the three-day “festival of resistance,” which kicks off Saturday, May 16. So far, the awareness-building campaign has been working, drawing attention from national media outlets (see the New York Times coverage here).
Amanda Lee, a 24-year-old sea kayak guide for Alki Kayak Tours, has been helping lead the training sessions. “I’ve never been an activist type, but I’m concerned about climate change,” she told The Seattle Times. For Lee, Shell’s plans to park their Arctic rigs in Seattle brought the urgency of the issue home. “It’s at our front doorstep,” she said. “I care about the water and sea life.”
Shell has long fought to begin drilling in ice-laden waters of the Chukchi Sea, which federal scientists estimate contains up to 15 billion barrels of oil. In 2012, Shell was granted a conditional permit to begin Arctic drilling, but attempts were cut short after sea ice delayed production and one of their ships caught fire, leading to a $12.2 million settlement.
Zarna Joshi, an organizer with the sHell No! Action Coalition’s “Paddle in Seattle” protest, said on Democracy Now!, “We will have many, many kayaks, canoes, barges on the water, and we will be sharing a massive show of numbers of people power on the water, showing that we can and we will stop Shell from going up to the Arctic.”
Saturday’s protest will be followed by a “family day” on Sunday, May 17, and another direct action protest on land on Monday.
Not all residents of the city are pleased with the series of protests, and maritime spokespeople have cited Seattle’s economic dependence on port commerce. “For Seattle to remain a thriving and viable maritime city, it cannot continue to set a hostile tone and environment toward our port and maritime sector,” coordinator of the Washington Maritime Federation Joshua Berger said in a statement.
Environmental activists see the arrival of the ships as an opportunity to draw attention to the dangers of Arctic drilling and global warming. Some have vowed to block the ships should they try to depart for Arctic later in the summer, risking arrest should they violate the Coast Guard’s 100-yard safety zone around the ships.
“We’re going to be there shaking our paddles at Shell,” Carlo Voli, 49-year-old “kayaktivist”, told the Associated Press. “When they try and depart, that’s when we will put our kayaks and bodies on the line and not allow them to leave.”
— Stay tuned for CanoeKayak.com’s exclusive video coverage of the protest.
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