Spectacular Resistance to Shell’s Arctic Drilling Moves

August 3, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


This week some very significant resistance to Shell Oil’s move to drill in the Arctic went down in Portland, Oregon.

Protest of Shell Oil's Arctic drilling, Portland, July 2015Turning back the Fennica in protest of Shell's arctic drilling, Portland.

All photos: Whitney Gardner

 Protest of Shell Oil's Arctic drilling, Portland, July 2015Protest of Shell Oil's Arctic drilling, Portland, July 2015

Beginning around 2 am on July 29, 13 Greenpeace activists suspended themselves in climbing gear from the St. Johns Bridge on the Willamette River to block Shell’s icebreaker the Fennica from leaving port. The climbers were supported by others on the bridge. (Shell is required to have the Fennica* present in the Chukchi sea in Alaska before it can drill into oil-bearing layers of the ocean floor.) They were joined by kayaktivists associated with Rising Tide Portland, Backbone campaign, 350.org, and others in the river below. The Fennica was slated to leave early morning July 29 but did not, very likely stopped by the protests. The next morning, as the Fennica tried to leave, it was forced to turn back when the climbers lowered themselves down further from the bridge to block its path. Cheers and celebrations broke out among the blockaders as well as crowds of supporters who had been growing on shore!

After the Fennica was turned back, multiple police agencies mobilized to prepare to suppress the protests. A Shell spokesperson tried to keep up Shell’s cover of being eco-friendly by saying Shell respected the rights of protesters, but that “The staging of protesters in Portland was not safe nor was it lawful.” Shell went to federal court and received backing from a federal judge who ruled Greenpeace was in violation of a federal injunction against them. The judge slapped Greenpeace with fines of $2,500 per hour for every hour the Fennica was delayed, with fines rising if the protest continued in coming days. The judge said Greenpeace would have to pay these fines directly to Shell, for its cost in delaying the Fennica!

The line that “you can make your point, but you must be lawful” was trumpeted via the mainstream media, backing up the moves by the state and Shell. In other words: If your protest actually gets in the way of our machinery of profit and destruction we will go after you hard.

Protest of Shell Oil's Arctic drilling, Portland, July 2015

All traffic was shut down on the bridge. Fire rescue teams rappelled down and cut lines that linked the climbers to each other and then forced three off their lines down to the water. The Fennica began moving out toward the bridge. A Coast Guard spokesman claimed, “Our mission is to make sure that people stay safe on the water.” But Coast Guard and police boats zoomed around to force kayaks away, and even ran over one kayak that attempted to block the Fennica. Other Coast Guardsmen jumped in the water to wrestle protesters into police boats. On the evening of the 29th, the Fennica moved through, despite 10 climbers still being present. Twenty people were reportedly arrested.

The protest raised the level of active resistance to Arctic drilling. The Fennica had been essentially delayed for around 36 hours. Support poured in from around the country. Mark Ruffalo, Cheryl Strayed, who wrote the book Wild, Thandie Newton, and others tweeted their support. The climbers tweeted from their perches and even did interviews. The hashtag “shellno” was trending on Twitter. People from all over the U.S. and beyond sent thank yous to the brave resisters who stood up for the Arctic and the planet.

Protest of Shell Oil's Arctic drilling, Portland, July 2015

The stakes of drilling in the Arctic are extremely high. From the viewpoint of scientific reality, Arctic drilling is madness. The Obama administration’s own Bureau of Ocean Management has predicted there is a 75 percent chance of a major oil spill in the Arctic over the 77-year drilling lease period. Such a spill would devastate life in the Chukchi’s pristine ecosystem that is so rich with life. A spill like this would be near impossible to clean up, meaning much of this ecosystem could be just wiped out. Ice in the Arctic is melting, eliminating habitat, destroying the Arctic ecosystem, and adding to the enormous threat of sea-level rise. Drilling flies in the face of a pathbreaking scientific study in Nature magazine which showed that exploiting the Arctic for oil and other forms of energy was inconsistent with keeping to a 2-degree Celsius world temperature rise, the supposed goal of all countries signing on to the Copenhagen climate accord. And 2 degrees is clearly too high, as massive and frightening transformations of the world and threats to species are already underway with only the 1-degree C rise that has already occurred.

Despite all of this clear and compelling evidence, the Obama administration has pushed for and green-lighted Shell to go forward. Shell’s success in finding Arctic oil is seen by the U.S. as not just aiding Shell, but aiding the opening up of the Arctic to domination by U.S. capital for its predicted large supplies of oil and gas, and for being part of increasing a U.S. presence in this region that all the imperialist and regional powers see as a “strategic prize.” (See revcom.us/a/387/why-is-the-u-s-opening-the-arctic-to-drilling-en.html.) The administration’s granting of permits to Shell has gone forward despite the prediction that Shell’s drilling will harass thousands of marine mammals that live and migrate through the Chukchi.

Many activists couched this protest as a way to allow or pressure Obama to do the right thing, reverse course, and deny the final drilling permit Shell needs. Annie Leonard, Greenpeace spokesperson, for instance said the protest gave Obama the time to “stand up and be the real climate leader he keeps saying he wants to be.” Let’s not mince words. This viewpoint is complete illusion and denial of reality, misunderstanding both the role Obama has played and what interests he really represents. Obama is couching himself and the U.S. as climate leader to protect the rule of the very system that is the main destroyer of the world’s environment, historically and today.

Let’s just look at how this issue of drilling and these protests have been handled by the authorities.

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Obama helps Shell through the “fractious federal bureaucracy” (as the New York Times put it) to get its leases approved. All the key permits are allowed by the administration despite previous oil spills and despite Shell’s proven record of disaster in its 2012 Arctic mission. Permits are granted right as Obama’s own scientific body has announced that 2015 has smashed records for world temperature in all of human history. The police work with the Coast Guard to suppress the protests in the name of upholding the law and keeping business as usual going. A federal judge sides with Shell to slap an injunction on Greenpeace. The media backs all this in the name of “following the law” (which is destroying our planet). And Obama doesn’t say peep about any of this. The only people defended and rewarded by this society are the destroyers of the environment, and the only people suppressed, attacked, and arrested are those who care enough about the Arctic and the world to stand up in its defense. This whole damn system is responsible and guilty to the core. This important struggle must go forward from here to finally prevent drilling in the Arctic.


* Shell is now assembling drilling rigs and support ships in the Chukchi Sea in preparation for drilling exploratory wells in one of the last relatively pristine marine habitats. All that remained for Shell to be allowed to drill into oil-bearing layers was to position the Fennica, Shell's icebreaker that was carrying the “capping stack” to be used in the event of an oil spill, and then receive a final drilling permit which looks like a foregone conclusion.
      The Fennica ripped open its hull on rocks in Alaska earlier in June and was forced to return from Alaska to a Portland, Oregon dry dock for repairs. So environmental activists jumped on the arrival of the Fennica to try to keep it in Portland and delay Shell’s ability to start oil drilling. Activists knew that Shell has only a short window this summer to carry out drilling before sea ice in the Chukchi begins reforming sometime in the fall, so any delays can potentially prevent them from going far this year.[back]



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