We All Need to Paddle with Seattle
May 9, 2015
The protests in Seattle underscore a need for national solidarity when it comes to fighting climate change.
On Saturday May 16, a flotilla of over 200 kayaks, canoes and sailboats traveled up the Duwamish River to reach the Port of Seattle. Their end destination was Terminal 5, the new home of Shell’s drilling rig Polar Pioneer. Shell has plans to turn Terminal 5 into their home base for their renewed Arctic oil exploration, but the city of Seattle doesn’t want them. Paddle in Seattle, as this maritime event was called, signaled the kickoff of a three-day protest against Shell’s docking of the Polar Pioneer, and their Arctic drilling practices that were recently approved to begin this year.
Just a week before the protests began, the Federal government gave the go-ahead to Shell to restart their drilling in the controversial Chukchi Sea. The approval contained multiple conditions that Shell needs to meet before drilling can commence, but even these conditions still risk hurting the fragile ecosystem in the Arctic. The Chukchi Sea is home to numerous species of wildlife, including bowhead whales and polar bears, both of which are protected under the Endangered Species Act. The Chukchi Sea region is also home to the Inupiat people, who have lived in the region for thousands of years. These people rely on the natural bounty the area affords them, and any meddling with the ecosystem by Shell puts that in jeopardy. These risks are simply too large to accept.
The risks inherent in oil drilling are only multiplied when Shell’s track record in the Arctic is examined. The company has had a rough time trying to move their operations into these harsh waters. In 2012, Shell admitted that it would not be able to recover 90% of any split oil like it had previously pledged, while in that same year one of their ships, the Noble Discoverer, slipped its anchor and drifted freely in Dutch Harbor Alaska. At the end of 2012, Shell’s drilling Rig Kullukwas recklessly towed out to harsh sea to avoid taxes. Along the way, the rig was accidentally cut from its tow line and ran aground on Alaska’s Kodiak Island. This only accounts for one year of Shell’s operations, with many more mishaps occurring throughout the past decade.
It is obvious that someone needs to stand up to Shell to protect the fragile Arctic ecosystem. Seattle has proven time and time again not to be the town to mess with, but one city is not enough to fight Shell or the rest of the fossil fuel economy. Shell has already said that they have back-ups if the Port of Seattle is unusable. The rest of the United States can learn from Seattle, and begin to stand up to fossil fuel companies in the fight to counter climate change.
William Reckley, Intern