As of Thursday afternoon, 13 Greenpeace activists are still hanging from a bridge in Portland, Oregon, after successfully forcing The Fennica, a Shell icebreaker, to turn around.
The Fennica is an integral part of Shell’s plan to drill for oil in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, an initiative recently approved by the US government despite its own conclusion that developing oil leases in the region carries a 75 percent risk of an oil spill. By hanging from the St. John’s Bridge, protesters hope to delay the ship from joining Shell’s exploratory fleet. If The Fennica is delayed long enough for the Arctic winter to set in, it may prevent Shell from developing its leases until 2016.
Greenpeace protesters buckled themselves into their harnesses and suspended themselves from the St. John’s early Wednesday morning. They were joined in solidarity by protesters on the bridge and kayakers in the water. The Fennica, which docked in Portland for repairs last week after sustaining damage to its hull, needs to pass under the St. John’s Bridge to reach the Columbia River and its outlet to the Pacific. It was blocked in its attempts Wednesday and again on Thursday, despite the actions of local authorities.
A federal judge in Alaska has ordered Greenpeace USA to pay a fine of $2,500 for every hour its protesters hang from the bridge and prevent The Fennica from departing. Police officers and the Coast Guard have cleared activists from the water and from the bridge, yet the 13 hanging activists have refused to move. Greenpeace reports that they have food to last them for several days.
“The activists went to sleep last night prepared for this moment, and they were in incredible spirits hearing the support from local Portlanders below and from people around the world,” said Cassady Sharp, Greenpeace USA media officer in Portland. “The one person they really hope is listening is President Obama. There has never been a better time for our President to do the right thing and cancel Shell’s lease to drill in the Arctic.”
— Greenpeace USA (@greenpeaceusa) July 30, 2015
As of this writing, the activists have been hanging for over 30 hours and have received shouted encouragement from civilians on the ground.
The Alaskan federal court has warned that the hourly fine against Greenpeace will increase until their climbers are removed. On Friday, the fine will double to $5,000 an hour; rising to $7,500 an hour on Saturday and to $10,000 an hour by Sunday.
This is not the first time Shell has encountered opposition in the Pacific Northwest. In May, protesters demonstrated for several days against Shell docking its mobile oil rig, Polar Pioneer, in the Port of Seattle. The protesters were joined by Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who called for “an escalating series of mass nonviolent civil disobedience until this madness is stopped.”
Five years ago, the Deepwater Horizon explosion unleashed a torrent of oil into the Gulf of Mexico that is still harming the local economy and poisoning the marine environment. Experts warn that developing oil leases in the Arctic risks spills that will be significantly harder to clean due to the severe weather in the region and its virtual inaccessibility during winter months.
“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.
Greenpeace has created an online petition asking President Obama to rescind Shell’s Arctic drilling lease.