On Monday, protesters concluded three days of peaceful demonstrations against Shell’s Arctic oil exploration.
Carrying signs and banners reading “Shut the Gates of Shell” and “Gates Foundation Divest from Fossil Fuels,” the protesters gathered at the gates to the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5, where Shell’s mobile oil rig, Polar Pioneer, has been stationed for the past week. The oil rig will head north in June to begin Shell’s investigation into oil deposits in the Chukchi Sea.
At the Terminal 5 demonstration, hundreds of protesters sang and listened to speeches, one of which was given by Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who decried political inaction on climate change and called for “an escalating series of mass nonviolent civil disobedience until this madness is stopped.”
Earlier this month, the Department of the Interior approved Shell’s plan to begin exploratory oil drilling in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea. The news was a blow to environmentalists, who thought they had scored a victory last year when the Interior Department released a report that said drilling in the Chukchi would negatively impact the region and carried a 75 percent risk of one or more large oil spills occurring.
“The Interior Department bent over backward to rush Shell’s permit through the regulatory process so it could move its drillships into the Arctic this summer,” said Rebecca Noblin, the Alaska Director for the Center for Biological Diversity.
Shell has been trying to convince the federal government to let it drill in the Alaskan waters for the past seven years. This is despite the protests of several leading environmental and Arctic experts, who warn that drilling in the region poses a danger both to the immediate area and the globe.
“Tapping into and burning oil from the Arctic Ocean will pump dangerous amounts of carbon pollution into the air, worsening climate change,” wrote Sierra Club Arctic Campaign Director Dan Ritzman. “It will also coat Arctic ice surfaces with black, heat-absorbing soot, further speeding the melting of ice that is already at record low levels, in an Arctic that is already warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet.”
The Seattle protest at Terminal 5 was intended to slow down Shell’s progress with the Polar Pioneer, which will begin the exploratory drilling this summer, though a spokesman for Shell indicated that the demonstration did not significantly disrupt the preparatory work being done on the rig.
However, the City of Seattle has said that the rig’s presence at Terminal 5 violates a permit, and issued a notice of violation to the terminal’s leaseholder through its Department of Planning and Development. The Polar Pioneer must vacate the terminal by June 4 or risk city fines of up to $500 per day.
Though surrounded by a major police presence, the protesters were treated civilly by officers and commended for their orderly demonstration. According to The Seattle Times, the protesters departed the area at about 1:40pm.