In a David v. Goliath set-to in Portland (OR), protesters are one-upping the kayaktivists in Seattle, adding small boats and a “human curtain” from GreenPeace rappelling 100 to 200 feet down from the city’s tallest bridge, St. Johns Bridge, to block a ship from going out to sea. Earlier this year, protesters tried to block the departure of the Shell-leased drilling rig “Polar Pioneer” from Terminal 5 in the Port of Seattle. This week’s altercation escalated when the 380-foot icebreaker MSV Fennica tried to leave dry dock where it had a 39-inch gash in its hull repaired after the ship tried to take a shortcut early in its 1,000-mile journey from Dutch Harbor to the Aleutions.
The channel was shallower than shown by the 80-year-old charts that were surveyed with sextants and hand-held lines. The NOAA ship Fairweather, in the area to map Arctic shipping routes, found rocky areas less than 30 feet deep, one only 22.5 feet deep. The Fennica draws 27.5 feet.
The Fennica is vital to Shell’s drilling because it contains a 30-foot-tall capping stack equipment designed to prevent a blowout like BP experienced in the Gulf’s Deepwater Horizon disaster. A spill would be disastrous in Arctic waters which are covered by ice flows much of the year. The Chukchi Sea is home to an estimated 2,000 polar bears, as well as gray whales, bowhead whales and a major walrus population. Gray whales swim north also go for feeding grounds in the Chukchi Sea.
Shell received federal permits last week but must wait until the Fennica arrives at the drill site before the company can reapply for more permits to drill into hydrocarbon zones in the Chukchi Sea.
Scheduled to leave last night, the Fennica set out about 6:00 (PST) this morning but was forced to turn around by the presence of the protesters who plan to remain there indefinitely in spite of the unusual 100+ degree temperatures for at least today and tomorrow.
Following is an article from Oregon’s junior senator, Jeff Merkley:
“At this moment, the damaged Fennica icebreaker is entering the water in my home of Portland, OR, in what could be a make-or-break moment for our environment and our future climate.
“Here’s the background: In 2008, President George W. Bush not only lifted the executive ban on Outer Continental Shelf drilling, but also leased parts of the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea to Shell for oil and gas exploration.
“When Shell first attempted exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea in 2012, however, it was clear the company was out of its depth. In September, during open sea testing, Shell’s spill containment system was “crushed like a beer can.” Then the Noble Discoverer caught on fire later in November. To cap off the year, Shell’s other rig, the Kulluk, ran aground and was deeply damaged near Kodiak Island after facing severe winter weather. In a review, the U.S. Coast Guard deemed Shell’s wreck to be a result of “inadequate assessment and management of risks.”
“Yet now, with no indication things will be different this time around — and with clear and mounting evidence we can’t afford to burn Arctic oil if we are serious about climate change — Shell is making moves toward Arctic drilling once again. In fact, Shell’s rigs are already on their way to Arctic waters. The only thing that is stopping Shell is the delay of the Fennica, the damaged icebreaker, which they need to begin their drilling operations.
“Shell should seize this last chance to reverse course and drop their reckless plans for Arctic drilling before it is too late.
“Drilling in the Arctic is the height of irresponsibility. If the Chukchi leases are developed and Shell begins operations, a major oil spill is extremely likely. We all remember the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which resulted in billions of dollars in economic damage to coastal communities and devastating pollution from the 4.9 million barrels of oil that were dumped into the warm Gulf waters. The harsh climate and remote location of the Arctic would make cleanup of a comparable spill nearly impossible, and if a spill happens during the winter, months could pass before a well could be plugged.
“Additionally, we should not be investing in infrastructure that will lock in decades of production — and carbon pollution — from previously unexploited fossil fuel reserves. The science is clear that we have already discovered five times as much fossil fuel as we can afford to burn if we hope to avert catastrophic climate change. Human civilization already faces enormous challenges from climate change.
“We must take steps to alleviate this danger, not make it worse — and for Shell that means demonstrating global leadership by deciding to not put the world at risk by tapping into untouched and treacherous oil reserves in the Arctic. The U.S. should also use its power and leadership as the new Chair of the Arctic Council to work with other nations to keep Arctic oil off limits.
“Simply put, the Arctic may have oil, but the risks of drilling in the Arctic are too great. Arctic oil should stay in the ground.
“Several weeks ago, five of my Senate colleagues and I introduced the Stop Arctic Drilling Act of 2015, legislation that would protect the Arctic — and our climate — by prohibiting any new or renewed leases for oil drilling in the Arctic.
“It can take years to pass legislation in Congress, however, and right now we only have a window of weeks — maybe just days — before Shell starts drilling.
“It’s time for Shell to do the right thing and announce that they will pull out of the Arctic.”
Two friends—married couple Ann Hubard (photographer) and Taylor West (writer)—went down to the Willamette River this morning to chronicle the events as protesters kept the icebreaker from leaving Portland to help Shell drill for oil. Hubard, who was interviewed for the Oregonian, sent photos, and Taylor sent her impressions of this morning’s gathering:
Thirteen Dangling in Protest: Dangling some 408 feet above the Willamette River, yellow and red streamers marked each roped body. A flotilla of colorful kayaks was strategically stationed below, and a lone powered paraglider zigzagged up and down, in and out, voicing support for the mission. News helicopters tracked and recorded the event from on high while hundreds of spectators craning necks to spot the target of the daring dissenters. Moving ever so slowly up the Willamette came the MSV Fennica, 9,000 tons of icebreaker stretching longer than a football field. At last the dare is on!
The crowd is eerily quiet, the flotilla of kayaks centers itself, and, in unison, the danglers hang at attention. Suddenly I’m aware of only the paraglider’s engine and the roar of helicopters circling above. We stand together in anxious anticipation, heads shifting back and forth in tennis-match-style from danglers to ship. Who will say uncle first? Suddenly, the crowd erupts in boisterous cheers and applause. Yes, the Fennica has stopped before it turned and straddled on the river side-saddle as it starts its retreat. The daring dangling dissenters have won this round.
Comment from Hubard: The Shell ship is huge, and being there helps you really understand how impressive these protesters are, to hang there as long as they have. Their dedication and perseverance is amazing. I feel honored to have been there.
Addendum: This afternoon, police closed the St. Johns Bridge and removed three or four of the protesters dangling from the bridge. Law enforcement also circled protesters in kayaks and canoes that had continued to enter the river and block the big ship’s access. At 5:55 (PST), the Fennica went under the St. Johns Bridge, going north toward the Columbia River. Updates are available here.