The Protests and the Stakes
Significant Opposition Builds to Arctic Drilling and Shell Oil Rig

June 22, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


The fight to stop Arctic drilling has been escalating in the Pacific Northwest. In Seattle on June 15, dozens of kayaks and other boats opposed and attempted to block Shell Oil’s Polar Pioneer drilling rig from leaving Seattle’s port for Alaska.

Big stakes are tied up in stopping the drilling. The fate of Arctic ecosystems and of indigenous people who live in connection with these ecosystems is on the line, threatened by oil spills and even more melting of Arctic ice. And the future, too, of the whole planet is imminently at risk. A major scientific study this year in Nature magazine demonstrated that exploitation of fossil fuels in the Arctic would mean climate disaster.

Shell is right now sending two drilling rigs to Alaska’s Chukchi Sea to begin exploratory drilling in an area called the Burger Prospect. And this is just the beginning. Shell’s executive Vice President Ann Pickard told the Seattle Times in May, “If Burger works, then it opens up the whole area.” In the face of a coming planetary climate catastrophe caused chiefly by burning oil, coal and gas, Shell says it hopes to increase U.S. oil supplies by 1 million barrels a day from its drilling in the Arctic.

Shell started to move the Polar Pioneer sometime around 4 am on June 15, trying to avoid large numbers of blockaders. But a line of a dozen kayakers had formed up. Other “kayaktivists” were there in support while still others began to hit the water mobilized by a rapid response text from sHellNO. The Coast Guard arrested kayakers who courageously refused to move or got too close to the rig. As the rig was towed out by tug boats, kayaks and some other small boats moved in open water in front of and near the towering 38,000-ton drilling rig to try to slow it down. Coast Guard and Seattle police boats paved the way, protecting the rig, videotaping and occasionally arresting protesters who faced potentially heavy charges of blocking marine traffic. In all, 24 people were detained by authorities. They were then released with fines for violating the rig’s “safety zone.”

Protests and other actions against Arctic drilling and Shell’s fleet have been going on all up and down the northern coast and others are planned in Alaska. Greenpeace and indigenous activists even put themselves in the path of the Polar Pioneer as it went up the British Columbia coast, including by swimming in front of it.

Actions have been aiming to delay Shell, based on the understanding  that the company has a short window to get to Alaska and start drilling before ice starts reforming in the fall.

Twice, activists in Bellingham, Washington, attached themselves to the anchor chain of Shell’s American Trader barge. In Seattle, people twice blocked main gates of Terminal 5 where the Polar Pioneer was being loaded. Five activists with the “Raging Grannies” were arrested in one of the protests. Over 5,000 people gathered on June 13 in Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada), in a “Toast the Coast” rally protesting tar sands oil development and Arctic drilling. Jane Fonda and Rachel MacAdams came to participate. Fonda said of climate change and Arctic drilling, “This is the one fight we must win, because without a livable world, nothing else matters. This is the fight of our lives.”

Protests against the drilling were also held in 30 cities in Germany, according to Greenpeace of Germany.

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The System’s Response and What Is Needed

So what is the response of this system to the battle shaping up over drilling and its immense ramifications? Think about it! This system is melting the Arctic by its destructive burning of fossil fuels. And despite the planetary calamity this means, its response is to seize on this as an opportunity to get more oil now accessible because of this destruction!

Obama has pushed for and greenlighted the drilling from early on. His administration continues to grant the permits required for Shell to go ahead, including most recently permits which will allow Shell’s drilling to disrupt populations of marine mammals that live and migrate through the Chukchi Sea with ship traffic and seismic blasting. Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said, “Shell is permitted to harass as many as 25,217 ringed seals, 1,662 beluga whales and 1,038 bowhead whales among other mammals... Shell’s Arctic drilling plans are risky and reckless and today’s permit reveals another layer of outrage.”

On Twitter, someone asked Obama why he’s allowing drilling in the Arctic if he is concerned about climate change. Obama tweeted back that he had rejected Shell’s original proposal, showing he was serious, “but since we can’t prevent oil exploration completely in region we’re setting [the] highest possible standards.”

This is just obfuscation mixed with straight-up lies. Obama has been serious—serious about backing drilling in the Arctic in order to strengthen U.S. competitiveness and strategic power versus other world powers. (See “Why Is the U.S. Opening the Arctic to Drilling?”) His reference to “highest possible standards” refers to his phony claim that new rules and regulations can ensure offshore oil drilling can be done safely, a lie made clear by his own Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s prediction of a 75 percent chance of an oil spill from Arctic drilling. Further, his reference to “highest possible standards” has nothing to do with the question about climate change. There are no standards being applied or possible through which drilling and burning oil from the Arctic will help keep climate change in check. Instead, it will simply contribute further to climate change, perhaps devastatingly so.

And then there is the response from the system’s repressive apparatus. When people stand up to protect the Arctic in kayaks, the Coast Guard and the police are set loose to harass and arrest protesters, for violating a safety zone of a drilling rig that is violating the safety of our entire planet! This is just outrageous and criminal!

The struggle is sharpening. It is very important that these significant protest actions have been mounted and it’s vital they go forward. More people have been activated and brought into resistance, including some really putting themselves on the line. These struggles have made drilling in the Arctic a question internationally. Very importantly, they have provided more raw material for exposure of the illegitimacy of this system.

At the same time, there is a need for much more and deeper wrangling among those active in this resistance, as well as millions more who care about the planet, about what is the source of the problem and what it will take to confront this and ultimately deal with the emergency we face. It is still not uncommon to see many of those in this struggle say “it’s not too late for Obama to change his mind and stop the drilling,” without really confronting why Obama and this whole system are actually compelled to engage in such deadly and destructive behavior.

And there is also a need for much more struggle over what kind of resistance needs to be built to not just oppose but to really stop Arctic drilling and other key ways the environment is being destroyed in front of our eyes. To do this requires digging into, and comparing and contrasting different views of what is the problem and the solution, and to figure out the ways we can move to mobilize millions in active, determined resistance.


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