Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Shell Arctic oil drilling rigs unwelcome in Seattle


Over the last week Royal Dutch Shell has faced stiff public opposition in Seattle to it's Arctic oil exploration program with the arrival of the Noble Explorer and Polar Pioneer drill rigs for maintenance and provisioning in Seattle.

Related: Shell Polar Pioneer Arctic drilling rig blockaded at Port Terminal 5 in Seattle | 2013: Grounding of Shell drilling platform highlights dangers of Arctic Oil Drilling ShellNO.org | Rising Tide Seattle

The Noble Discoverer arrived in the Port of Everett last Tuesday (12 May). It was met by half a dozen kayaktivists with a sign that said "Shell No".

Last week protesters at the Port of Seattle setup a tripod at Terminal 5 to voice their opposition to the Polar Pioneer drill ship, which had been parked at Port Angeles but arrived in Seattle on Thursday. A handful of kayaktivists met the Polar Pioneer on the waters of Elliot Bay on Thursday when it arrived.

On May 12 Rising Tide Seattle said in a tweet that "This morning work stopped at Shell's Seattle Operations for nearly 3 hours - more coming this week!" A tripod was setup at the main entrance during the morning and a statement read out. Watch on Youtube

Shell wants to use the Port of Seattle as it's base to refuel, re-provision and carry out maintenance on it's Arctic drill rigs. But even the Seattle City Council has declared it's opposition to Shell's plans.


The City of Seattle Council adopted a unanimous resolution on May 11 urging reconsideration of Port of Seattle lease arrangements for Terminal 5 to host Shell Oil's Arctic drilling rigs. Mover of the motion, Councillor Mike O'Brien said "Maintaining a healthy working waterfront and maritime economy are essential for Seattle's long-term success. But we can achieve that without contributing to the catastrophic and irreversible impacts to our climate that Arctic drilling represents,"

The city's planning department ruled that the port's leasing of a terminal to Shell was in violation of its city permit.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray issued a statement after a meeting of the Port of Seattle Commission on 12 May: "I commend the Port Commission for deciding that the arrival of an off-shore drilling rig should be delayed until the proper permits are in place. I now hope Shell will respect the wishes of the Port, the City and the community at large, and not bring an off-shore drilling rig into Elliott Bay."

Shell has ignored the opposition and continued with it's plans to harbour and provision the rigs in Seattle until mid-summer, when they are expected to sail to the Arctic.

A further kayaktivist protest occurred on Saturday with over 500 hundred kayaking and other water-bourne craft protesting the Polar Pioneer drilling rig at Terminal 5.

Greenpeace Paddle in Seattle provides Youtube video footage of Saturday's kayaktivist protest:



Shell hopes to do exploratory oil drilling in the Arctic, in the Chukchi Sea this northern summer, despite warnings that exploitation of Arctic oil endangers the climate, and the severe problems with cleaning up oil spills in arctic waters.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management gave conditional approval to Shell's return to exploration in the Arctic on May 11, 2015.

"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,” said BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper in a media release. “As we move forward, any offshore exploratory activities will continue to be subject to rigorous safety standards."

Yet, best indications are that any Arctic oil spill would be next to impossible to clean up. Greenpeace, in a January 2015 article on Why cleaning up an Arctic oil spill would be impossible, highlighted the problems of oil spill response:

A new report entitled “Estimating an Oil Spill Response Gap for the U.S. Arctic Ocean” shows that current oil spill control technologies will only be effective a certain percentage of the time during the summer months — and will be mostly useless during the winter when pack ice covers the drill site. The report, which was funded by the U.S. government, conducts a sophisticated analysis of wind, ice and ocean conditions and concludes that various oil spill control measures will be ineffective anywhere from 18% to 56% of the time during the summer drilling season.

In a more recent article in April 2015 Greenpeace provides a Factcheck: How to clean up an Arctic oil spill in four steps (and why it is unlikely to work)

The latest science is also clear that exploitation of Arctic fossil fuels will cause us to exceed the 2C agreed climate limit. A study published in Nature by Christophe McGlade & Paul Ekins - The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2 °C - outlined the necessary limits that need to be placed on fossil fuel exploitation. The study outlines that much of the known reserves needs to be left in the ground, unburnt, including Arctic oil resources:

Our results suggest that, globally, a third of oil reserves, half of gas reserves and over 80 per cent of current coal reserves should remain unused from 2010 to 2050 in order to meet the target of 2 °C. We show that development of resources in the Arctic and any increase in unconventional oil production are incommensurate with efforts to limit average global warming to 2 °C. Our results show that policy makers’ instincts to exploit rapidly and completely their territorial fossil fuels are, in aggregate, inconsistent with their commitments to this temperature limit. Implementation of this policy commitment would also render unnecessary continued substantial expenditure on fossil fuel exploration, because any new discoveries could not lead to increased aggregate production.

In December 2012 Shell's Kulluk drilling rig ran aground near Kodiak Island, Alaska highlighting the dangers moving such drilling rigs. It was being moved from Alaska to Seattle to avoid paying $6 million in taxes.

Shell's recent record isn't much better. According to Vice News report a routine coast guard inspection of the Noble Discoverer found malfunctioning anti-pollution machinery aboard the rig last month.

Port of Seattle Terminal 5 blockaded


On Monday 18th May, over five hundred people blockaded Port of Seattle Terminal 5 where the Polar Pioneer is docked. Protestors started gathering before 7am before marching to blockade the terminal front gate.

Port spokesman Peter McGraw claimed that minimal operations were scheduled at Terminal 5 on Monday “so there’s not much to block.”

Here is how the day unfolded: Shell Polar Pioneer Arctic drilling rig blockaded at Port Terminal 5 in Seattle



Lead Image: Arctic Pioneer at Port Angeles Backbone Campaign/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)