Seattle Protests Against Arctic Drilling

sHell NO—Shut It Down!

May 25, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


On May 14, Shell Oil's drilling rig, the Polar Pioneer, was towed into Seattle's Elliott Bay. Shell is readying two oil rigs and a fleet of other ships in ports in Washington State, as part of plans to drill exploratory oil wells in the Chukchi Sea in Alaska's Arctic waters. The rig docked and preparatory work was begun on it even though the city said Shell didn't have the proper permits to do so and threatened fines.

Protest at Port of Seattle, May 18.
Protest at Port of Seattle, May 18. (AP photo)

From the time the Arctic drilling was first announced, environmental groups and people broadly who care about the planet have been planning to mount determined opposition to Shell. (See the web site and the interview with environmental activist) Drilling in the Arctic is unconscionable, especially given the danger of oil spills to a key pristine ocean and the further acceleration of climate change this would contribute to (see "Despite Devastating Environmental Impact: Why Is the U.S. Opening the Arctic to Drilling?")

The local press dubbed the protests the "Oil Battle in Seattle." On Saturday, May 16, 500 kayakers and other boaters rowed out and confronted the drilling rig that loomed stories above them. Kayaks of many colors and 4 or 5 large, beautiful canoes from different native peoples went right up to the rig, despite warnings from authorities to maintain a 100-yard gap.

Then on May 18, 400 people marched to Terminal 5 on the Seattle waterfront, where work in loading and preparing the oil rig is being carried out. The march was led by large banners saying "sHell No--Seattle Loves the Arctic," "Respect Indigenous Rights," "Climate Justice for All" and "Save the Planet--Join Us!" Revolutionaries carried a banner saying "Capitalism Is Destroying the Planet We Need Revolution, Nothing Less." People carried a huge canopy with a painting of the Earth on it that was lifted up into the air as people ran and danced underneath it. Many chants filled the air, including "If you build it, we will stop it. If you ship it, we will block it."

There were contingents from Bayan, indigenous people from Alaska and Washington State, young folks dressed as seabirds or polar bears, neighborhood peace groups, students, anarchists, revolutionaries, and many different stripes of environmentalists and other concerned people. A young woman from Nigeria led chants connecting the struggle around the Arctic with the damage Shell has done in her country.

The protest arrived at the terminal and blocked the three main gates, with dozens of cops on all sides. Many expected to do a sit-down blockade and be arrested, but instead the cops stood to the side and the whole area was occupied for six hours. People were energized and very joyous--dancing to music, chanting and responding to speeches, and alternately relaxing in the sun. Shell's contractor, Foss Shipping, claimed that no work was stopped because they had known about the protests for months and been able to plan. But there were reports that some trucks bringing materials in for the Polar Pioneer were turned away.

Flyers with the article "The Fight to Stop Arctic Drilling, the Stakes for the Planet" were passed out broadly. Revolutionaries mixed it up and got into many questions with people, including why the U.S. was doing this and what would be required to save the planet.

People came to the protest out of many concerns about the environment and the people.

A middle-aged woman from Kitsap Peninsula told Revolution/, "I've been against the oil in the Arctic since before Prudhoe Bay went in. People don't realize how much it will destroy the native groups up there. If you destroy the whale migration routes, if you destroy the porcupine caribou herds' migration routes, these people depend on that for their livelihoods—you destroy them. It's also about climate change and oil spills—which Shell knows darn well they can't clean that up.... So it just has to not happen. I can't even believe that knowing there's a 75 percent chance of an oil spill, they're still going to do it. They don't care. It's human rights, too—those people, they've been there for thousands of years. It'll destroy their whole way of life, everything they live for. It's not right."

Special Issue of Revolution on the Environmental Emergency

This Revolution special issue focuses on the environmental emergency that now faces humanity and Earth’s ecosystems. In this issue we show:

  • the dimensions of the emergency...
  • the source of its causes in the capitalist system, and the impossibility of that system solving this crisis...
  • a way out and way forward for humanity—a revolutionary society in which we could actually live as custodians of nature, rather than as its plunderers.

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Some people we talked to saw what is needed to stop climate change and environmental destruction as being a larger movement, possibly combined with putting pressure on the politicians, particularly influencing state and local politicians, who some still had some hope would "do the right thing." Many saw the problem as greed or profit, or some form of capitalism. Many people said they did not know what it would really take to stop this or how to draw larger numbers of people into this struggle. People mostly did not understand why Obama would make the decision to open the Arctic. There was real openness to getting into these questions, including how this drive to drill was rooted in capitalism and how this points to the need for an actual revolution.

The Seattle flotilla and protests received national and international news coverage. Organizers said the actions changed the conversation in society about Arctic drilling and brought it to worldwide attention.

More plans are being made by sHell NO to oppose the drilling rigs, including protests this weekend in Bellingham, Washington, where a Shell support ship is docked. will be following and reporting on further developments. These actions are very important to spread and support, given the tremendous ecological stakes involved in preventing any drilling for fossil fuels in the Arctic.



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