We’re not used to seeing offshore drilling rigs here in Puget Sound. Yes, we had the Kulluk in town a few years ago, but that was before the notorious conical rig confounded Edison Chouest’s attempt to tow it from Dutch Harbor to Seattle. You’ll recall that the trip was interrupted by an unscheduled stop on an island beach in the Gulf of Alaska.
Now we have the Polar Pioneer, which is even larger and considerably brighter, with its yellow platform and eight yellow legs supporting a blue-and-white derrick. Like the Kulluk in 2012, the Polar Pioneer is in town getting ready to drill offshore oil wells in Arctic waters.
As you may have heard, not everyone in Pugetopolis is happy to have the rig and its support vessels here for the visit. When Foss Maritime tugs towed the big rig into Seattle’s Elliott Bay, a flotilla of protestors in kayaks demonstrated their opposition. Seattle’s mayor, Ed Murray, also weighed in by coming out publicly against the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5 lease to Foss for Shell’s use. The city also declared that Foss/Shell’s use of the terminal violated its intended use permits.
Now we’ve got the “Raging Grannies,” a group of women who chained their rocking chairs to railroad tracks adjacent to Terminal 5. The Seattle Police Department sent in its specially equipped Apparatus Response Team to unbind the grannies and open the tracks. According to the Seattle Times, the five women (the oldest was 92) were arrested and released.
The demonstrations and the legal challenges have been disruptive, but the preparatory work goes on. In terms of challenges facing Shell’s Arctic program, the Seattle protests are small potatoes.
Many local proponents of Arctic drilling dismiss the protestors as hypocrites who drive gasoline-powered cars and paddle petroleum-based plastic kayaks. That may be true, but these citizens have legitimate concerns about our vulnerable environment, both regionally and globally. There has been no vandalism, as far as I know, and no one has been injured during these peaceful protests.
Shell claims to have learned from its mistakes and says it will be fully prepared this time. It also has Foss Maritime helping out, which brings decades of much needed experience in Arctic and Alaska waters. If Shell screws up again, they may not get a third chance, or deserve it.