Hundreds of kayakers in Seattle were preparing to go and “shake their paddles” in protest at a newly arrived 400ft long, 355ft tall Royal Dutch Shell oil rig on Saturday, with hundreds – perhaps thousands – more scheduled to attend on dry land.
Kayakers, or “kayaktivists”, as they have sought to rebrand themselves, will be splashing their oars in Seattle’s port to protest against drilling and exploration for oil in the Arctic – something the giant rig they will be facing off with, Polar Pioneer, is meant to do for oil giant Shell starting this summer.
“We here in Seattle do not want Shell in our port. We want them to get out and change their business before they change our planet and destroy the life of future generations,” said Annette Klapstein, a 62-year-old retired attorney and member of activist group the Raging Grannies.
On Monday, the Obama administration effectively gave Shell the green light to restart its Arctic drilling and exploration operations with an approval issued by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a governmental regulatory agency.
Shell was forced to halt its Arctic exploration in 2012 amid a series of severe security mishaps.
Environmental groups and scientists reacted to Monday’s news badly, warning that letting Shell back into the Arctic for exploration and drilling was very likely to cause an ecological disaster and contribute to climate change.
Another oil spill is likely
According to a US government study from this year, chances of an oil spill occurring as a result of drilling in the Arctic over the next 77 years are as high 75%.
These are figures well known to community members and activists in Seattle.
To Klapstein, the correct analogy is that of a plane crash.
“Can you imagine being told to get on a plane that has a 75% chance of crashing? Who gets on a plane that has a 75% chance of crashing?”
Klapstein will be out on the water on Saturday with her fellow over-50 activists – including one woman who is 92 years old and determined to participate (albeit on a small boat, not a kayak), she says.
Organizing for Saturday’s kayaking event has been months in the making and the sign of a growing environmentally conscious community in Seattle – a city already known for its progressive character.
Cassady Sharp, a media officer with Greenpeace, who has been on the ground in Seattle since the beginning of the year, says kayak security trainings have been organized twice a week for the last couple of months with a couple of dozen people attending each time.
Greenpeace alone have enrolled 500 people to participate in the action, she said, with local organizations taking part in other enrollment drives.
John Sellers, a 48-year-old professional organizer and home schooling father, is confident the organizing will help get Shell to move out of Seattle. Sellers successfully organized against a mining group a few years ago with a kayak-activist group of friends on Vashon Island, Washington, where he and his family live.
“This is a perfect on-water tactic,” Sellers said of the locally popular efforts to scare Shell away with a flotilla of earth-loving kayakers.
This 17 April 2015 photo shows a group of kayakers demonstrating against Shell in Elliott Bay in Seattle.
“It makes people happy. When they see a big swarm of kayaks, it gets people excited.”
A father of 10-year-old twins, he says his children witnessed the massive oil rig pulling into Seattle’s port on Thursday and found it both “ominous” and “frightening”.
Sellers has also raised tens of thousands of dollars – including through crowd funding on Indiegogo – in the past months to transform a former industrial barge into what he calls a “solar and wind powered people’s platform”.
The energy of the past
As he coordinated with welders on the 4,000-square-foot barge, he explained that 9,000 watts of energy would be generated on Saturday through solar panels, and 3,000 watts of energy through a wind generator.
“Shell oil is the energy of the past and we are the clean energy of the future,” he said.
The barge will be screening movies and images on a large projector tomorrow night and will stay put until Shell departs the port definitively, he said.
But Seattle residents are not just protesting about climate change and Arctic drilling. They are also protesting about the symbolism of hosting Shell’s drilling equipment – something they feel forcedly puts them in the middle of a dirty global system of fossil fuel extraction and commerce.
Seattle’s mayor, Ed Murray, openly opposes Shell’s presence in the port, and last week announced the port did not have the correct kind of permit to host the Shell equipment.
Shell was asked to delay action until the bureaucratic concerns were sorted out, but it ignored such requests and the rig moved in on schedule on Thursday anyway.
Shell is now facing a few hundred dollars a day in fines as a consequence – a drop in the ocean for a company that has already spent $6bn on Arctic exploration.
Still, Sellers is not intimidated.
“Small boats have been standing up to big boats for a long time,” he says. And sometimes, activists hope, they win.
By Rose Hackman. Source: The Guardian