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Friday, July 31, 2015

Portland bridge danglers delay Shell ice-breaker leaving for Arctic oil drilling #ShellNo

Note: this article is updating with developments

Portland, Oregon: Climate protestors with Greenpeace and Rising Tide have set up a blockade to stop the Finnish ice-breaker Fennica, hired by Shell, to leave port with needed parts for their Arctic oil drilling program in the Chukchi Sea.

13 Greenpeace protestors dangled across the river below the St John's bridge with linked lines to prevent passage of the ship.

They were supported by a crew of 13 on the bridge roadway, a flotilla of kayaktivists, and people gathered in the riverside park.

The same day as the Fennica icebreaker was being blockaded in Portland, news was published that Shell is sacking 6500 workers globally due to the downturn in oil prices. Shell joined oil giants BP and Chevron in cutting costs due to a 50 per cent slump in crude prices in the past year. The company's share price rose 4.7 per cent, but the stock has still dropped 17 per cent this year, reported Bloomberg.

The protestors setup in the early hours of Wednesday morning before the expected departure of the Fennica, however the ship remained in dock. Another 24 hours passed before the Fennica motored slowly down the Williamette river towards the protestors dangling below the bridge.

Authorities stopped traffic going across the St John's bridge and coast guard accompanied the Fennic towards the bridge. Around the Fennica a 500 yard exclusion zone and 100 yard exclusion zone on either side had been declared to stop kyaktavists from disrupting passage of the vessel.

However the dangling activists on the St John's bridge with their linked lines, banners and flags proved too much. The Fennica slowed then stopped it's approach. After 20 minutes it turned around and remained stationary for a while, before proceeding back to it's dock.

The activists had been dangling from the bridge for more than 28 hours. They are roped in and have supplies to remain in place for a week they say. Greenpeace issued a media release after 30 hours of the blockade with Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director, Greenpeace International saying:

“In the struggle for a better world, these thirteen courageous souls are currently the last line of defence for the fragile Arctic. This morning they turned Shell’s dangerous drilling support vessel around. On behalf of millions of people around the world they are saying sHell no to Arctic oil drilling. It is now time for President Obama to listen to the growing movement in the US and beyond. It is not too late for him to revoke Shell’s lease to drill and to send this ship back to port permanently”

At 4pm Thursday police rappelled from above and started cutting the tag lines between protestors. At least two protestor in the middle of the channel was lowered down to a Sherriff's boat below. Greenpeace advised it is up to each protestor to assess the situation with regard to their own safety and decide when to come down.

A Second blockade launched on rail bridge upriver, continuing the action against Shell! Jonah locked himself with a bicycle U-lock on the railway bridge. He has now been arrested and removed, but made this statement via Rising Tide on Facebook.

“I’m doing this in solidarity with Indigenous communities around the world who are on the front lives of resource extraction on stolen lands. It’s time for the climate movement to move beyond individual issues and start looking at the greater systems of oppression like colonialism, racism and sexism that are destroying people and the planet.”

The delay of the Fennica costs Shell US$60,000 a day. Fines against Greenpeace have been issued by a US district court judge Sharon Gleason from Anchorage Alaska for Greenpeace USA to pay $2,500 an hour for the delay. Greenpeace USA executive director Annie Leonard said “Shell is still trying to circumvent the growing global call to preserve the Arctic, and has turned to the courts for help,” Leonard said. “While we respect the courts, we also respect the increasingly urgent science that tells us Arctic oil needs to stay underground.”

Several hundred people are on the banks of the river cheering those in kayaks and the remaining people dangling from the bridge. Sherriff boats are trying to clear a path through the kayaks under the bridge.

The permit for Shell to do exploratory drilling ends in September, so every hour and day delaying drilling can make a real difference in Shell's oil exploration. Shell's Arctic drilling program fleet contains two icebreakers. The Fennica sustained damage to its hull and came back to Portland for repairs. It is equipped with a capping stack, which Shell is federally required to have on site in the Chukchi Sea. Until the MSV Fennica and the capping stack are on site in Alaska and Shell is granted federal drilling permits, the company can only drill top wells, thousands of feet above any projected oil, according to Greenpeace.

Earlier today the Sierra Club spokesperson Dan Ritzman, Director of Sierra Club’s Arctic campaign, released the following statement:

“These brave activists have done what hundreds of thousands of Americans have called on President Obama to do: stop Shell from drilling in the Arctic. “The actions taken by those suspended from the bridge and paddling in the water are just the beginning of the ‘Shell No’ movement. We expect more reckless attempts by Shell to persist with their risky drilling plans, even as the effects of climate change are already felt throughout the Arctic. The region must remain untouched from the dangers of drilling. That’s why there are 13 protesters suspended from the St Johns Bridge and dozens of ‘kayaktivists’ in the water, and it’s why over 1,500 people gathered last night to declare that they stand with them. “President Obama must listen to science, common sense, and the American people and say ‘Shell No’ to drilling in the Arctic.”

The Fennica passing under the bridge between dangling protestors surrounded by police boats and protest kayaks.

Before after passing under the bridge, the ship was blockaded by up to 45 kayaks and canoes, which took coast guard and water police up to 20 minutes to clear a path. The Fennica was even forced to stop and back up a couple of hundred feet at one stage. described it as Showdown on the water: Video of the battle to keep the Fennica in Portland.

Once clear of the protestors, the ship picked up speed, and was shown to be doing 12.3 knots passing through the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, according to bdemelle tracking it's progress. Rose Braz from the Centre for Biological Diversity raised in a tweet "Why is @Shell #Fennica speeding 12.3kt through a Natl Wildlife Refuge? Speed limit? #ShellNo #rules". Indeed.

Shell Oil granted Federal approval in May to proceed

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.

Scientists: Arctic Oil Drilling incommensurate with efforts to limit average global warming to 2 °C

Climate scientists have reported in a peer reviewed study in January 2015 that 88 percent of Global Fossil Fuel reserves need to remain unburned if we are to limit global warming temperature rise to 2 °C throughout the twenty-first century. This applies especially to those reserves more marginal and costly to recover such as in the Arctic or under the deep sea.

Lead author Dr Christophe McGlade, Research Associate at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources said: “We’ve now got tangible figures of the quantities and locations of fossil fuels that should remain unused in trying to keep within the 2°C temperature limit. Policy makers must realise that their instincts to completely use the fossil fuels within their countries are wholly incompatible with their commitments to the 2°C goal. If they go ahead with developing their own resources, they must be asked which reserves elsewhere should remain unburnt in order for the carbon budget not to be exceeded.”

The authors say clearly in the study abstract, "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. "

I discuss this study in particular with regards to development of Galilee basin coal in Queensland, Australia.

This protest follows earlier protests in May 2015 in Seattle blockading Shell's drilling rig leaving for the Arctic. See my articles: Shell Arctic oil drilling rigs unwelcome in Seattle and Shell Polar Pioneer Arctic drilling rig blockaded at Port Terminal 5 in Seattle.

In January 2013 I reported on the Grounding of Shell drilling platform highlights dangers of Arctic Oil Drilling.

Reports from Elizabeth Mount from under the bridge

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