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Greenpeace boards Seattle-bound Shell drilling platform in mid-Pacific

Article by Joel Connelly published by on 6 April 2015

Greenpeace boards Seattle-bound Shell drilling platform in mid-Pacific

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A half-dozen Greenpeace activists have boarded Shell Oil’s Seattle-bound drilling platform as it crosses the eastern Pacific, but say they will make no effort to interfere with the navigation of the ship.

“The hope is to shine a light on what the rigs will be doing: They are crossing the ocean but in 100 days they intend to be drilling in Alaska waters, which stands to impact and intensify climate change,” said Travis Nichols of Greenpeace.

One of the activists, Aliyah Field, an American, tweeted: ”We made it. We’re on Shell’s platform. And we’re not alone. Everyone can turn this into a platform for people power.”

And, Greenpeace being Greenpeace, the “Polar Pioneer Six” intend to unfurl a large banner denouncing Shell’s proposed drilling.

Shell is not amused.  “We can confirm that protestors from Greenpeace have illegally boarded the Polar Pioneer, under contract to Shell, jeopardizing not only the safety of the crew on board, but the protestors themselves,” the company said in a statement.

Shell said it has met with opponents of the planned Arctic drilling, and “respect their views and value the dialogue.”

“We will not, however, condone the illegal tactics employed by Greenpeace,” Shell added.  “Nor will we allow these stunts to distract from preparations underway to execute a safe and responsible exploration program.”

Greenpeace is, in a sense, going home with its protests against Shell’s planned drilling in Arctic waters of the Chukchi Sea off the northwest coast of Alaska.

The environmental organization had its star, when a boat full of anti-war activists from Vancouver sailed north to protest the Atomic Energy Commission’s underground nuclear weapons test on Amchitka Island in the Aleutians.

They were sent off in a legendary Vancouver concert that featured Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Phil Ochs.

The “Polar Pioneer Six” hail from New Zealand, Austria, Australia, Sweden and Germany.

Johno Smith, the New Zealander, accused Shell of “exploiting the melting ice to increase a manmade disaster,” adding:  “Climate change is real and already inflicting pain and suffering on my brothers and sisters in the Pacific.”

(A pair of monster cyclones have recently struck island nations in the South Pacific, already threatened by rising sea levels.)

The boarding of the Polar Pioneer took place “on the Seattle side of Hawaii but in international waters,” Nichols said. The Arctic exploration fleet is expected to arrive in the Emerald City, possibly to a raucous welcome, in mid-April.

Shell intends to use the Polar Pioneer and the Noble Discoverer to drill six exploratory wells, if final approval comes through from the U.S. Interior Department.

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell last week signed off on a new environmental impact statement for the proposed drilling, but Shell must still get permits on its drilling plan from two Interior Agencies.

Interestingly, the sign-off came just as President Obama was proposing that 12.28 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — including its coastal plain, coveted by oil companies — be forever protected as wilderness.

The basing of Shell’s drilling fleet at the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5 has set off noisy environmental protests, from the shopworn Raging Grannies to talented young Seattle musician Aji Piper.

Several environmental group have filed suit challenging terms of a lease signed by the Port of Seattle with Foss Maritime, the firm that supplies and repairs Shell’s vessels.

Shell had a disastrous experience when it tried to drill in 2012.  The Noble Discoverer had to withdraw due to ice flows.  A containment dome breached and crumpled in Puget Sound waters.  The drilling ship Kulluk was wrecked after breaking loose from its tow lines in a Gulf of Alaska storm.

A U.S. Coast Guard inspection of the Noble Discoverer resulted in eight felony convictions against Noble Drilling, a major Shell subcontractor and $12.2 million in fines.

Greenpeace has changed, its protests have changed, in the more than four decades since the Amchitka action.

A co-founder, Patrick Moore, has become an defender/advocate for the British Columbia timber industry, and a witness at U.S. Congress hearings called by climate change deniers.

Others have stayed with the cause.

A few years before his death, one of the Amchitka protestors — Canadian journalist Bob Hunter — joked of photos from the trip north.

“Just about every shot shows us me and the others smoking cigarettes,” said Hunter.  “We would be banned from expeditions now.”

Other visitors bound for the Chukchi Sea are already in Northwest waters.

Gray whales pass along the Coast — some come in the Strait of Juan de Fuca to eat sand shrimp on Whidbey Island — en route to summer feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi Seas.

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