Hundreds of protesters gathered at Terminal 5 at the Port of Seattle on Monday, May 18 to demonstrate against the Polar Pioneer, an exploratory oil drilling rig owned by Shell that is staying in Seattle before moving up to the Chukchi sea, northwest of Alaska.
A loose coalition of groups calling themselves the sHell No! Action Council organized the protests on Monday. From a press release, “SNAC has focused their opposition to Arctic Drilling on the impacts of Global Warming on the impacts on peoples in the Global South and indigenous communities.”
“Everyone is out here today, we have scientists, teachers and city councilmembers risking arrest because they understand the severity of this moment,” said Sarra Tekola a student with Divest University of Washington who recently won a vote to divest their school’s endowment from Coal.
Some of the more visible protesters are what have been termed as kayaktivists, who formed a kayak flotilla to block the drilling rig.
Kent Short, BC program chair of the Earth and Space Sciences division said, “This is an exploration rig, not a production rig. If they do find any oil, it would probably be at least 10 years before any oil is produced and refined for market, using more substantial production equipment.”
“I’m joining in solidarity with the environmental community,” Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant said to KIRO Radio. “Any drilling of oil in the Arctic represents grave danger to all humanity.”
Seattleites were not the only protesters on the scene, Native Alaskans traveled to protest at Terminal 5 as well. “I’m here as an Inupiaq person to support and stand with the activists and kayaktivists in the effort to keep the Arctic Ocean free of drilling for oil,” said Allison Warden.
This isn’t the first time Shell has undertaken exploratory drilling for oil, an ill-fated attempt in 2012 ended with the drill barge Kulluk breaking loose of its tow rope and running aground on an uninhabited island.
According to Short “The better-informed among the protesters are really focusing on two issues: The risk that oil drilling and eventual production in that part of the Arctic Ocean could lead to serious leaks or spills in a highly sensitive, pristine marine environment; and that developing new oilfields anywhere is the wrong thing to be doing in light of human-caused climate change.”
The protests were peaceful, no arrests were made and there were reportedly no confrontations with police, who were present in force. “I think this is First Amendment expression at its finest,” said Sean Whitcomb, a Seattle police spokesman to the Seattle Times.
The issue is not one-sided, there are those that are in favor of exploring the Arctic for oil. According to Short, there are “those that would argue that currently the global economy is fueled by oil, and until there are plentiful, clean, renewable energy alternatives available, the United States should find and develop every available domestic oil and gas source, in order to reduce our dependence on foreign sources and keep our economy strong.”
Short continued: “Each of us needs to decide whether or not we believe this type of energy development constitutes good business and helps preserve our national security, or is much too risky and short-sighted, with the potential for long-term disastrous environmental and social consequences.”