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'Paddle in Seattle' Protesters Welcome Shell Drilling Rig with Two Words: Go Away

Thursday's protest comes ahead of a larger sHell No! demonstration—including mass flotilla and direct action—planned for the weekend

Deirdre Fulton

Paddling activists met the Royal Dutch Shell drilling rig as it arrived in the Port of Seattle. The Space Needle is visible behind the hulking yellow rig. (Photo: Reuters)

Paddling activists rolled out the un-welcome mat as Shell Oil's hulking 'Polar Pioneer' drilling rig—whose presence is opposed by many local citizens, environmentalists, and city officials—pulled into the Port of Seattle on Thursday afternoon.

About 20 kayakers met the 307-foot-tall, 400-foot-long rig in the waters of Elliott Bay, singing, chanting, linking arms, and bearing a banner that read, "Arctic Drilling = Climate Change." Among the group were members of the Duwamish Tribe, who paddled through the waves in a long wooden canoe and led the group in chanted songs, according to the Seattle Times.

The Times adds:

Law-enforcement officers were on the water and overhead to enforce a 500-yard safety zone while the Polar Pioneer was in motion. Coast Guard officials warned the activists beforehand that any disruption of safe navigation could result in arrests.

But the authorities allowed the activists relatively close to the rig when it briefly stopped, and there were no disturbances of note during the afternoon demonstration.

Thursday's protest came in advance of a larger sHell No! demonstration planned for the weekend, including a family-friendly #PaddleinSeattle flotilla on Saturday and a mass direct action on Monday. Zarna Joshi, an organizer with the sHell No! Action Coalition, told Democracy Now! that Monday will involve "land-based actions in order to show Shell that we can shut them down on the water and on the land. They cannot hide."

In a statement about the weekend of resistance, sHell No! organizers declared: "Shell's drilling rigs are a prime example of the root causes and injustice of the climate crisis. They will generate untold wealth for the few, while wrecking the climate for everyone, trampling on Indigenous rights, and causing millions of deaths in the global south."

The Obama administration on Monday granted conditional approval for Shell to resume its Arctic oil exploration. Shell is planning to use Seattle as a base to store and maintain the rigs and other equipment as it drills the Chukchi Sea off Alaska—an arrangement that faces mounting opposition in the city.

As Common Dreams reported this week, the Seattle Port Commission on Tuesday passed a resolution asking Shell to delay the arrival of its drilling rigs, following hours of outraged testimony over the Commission's unilateral decision to house the oil fleet. The Seattle City Council had previously voted unanimously in favor of a resolution urging the Port to reconsider its lease agreement allowing Shell to park its equipment. 

Shell, for its part, remains unmoved by the protests and regulatory questions. "Given the short windows in which we have to work in the Arctic, and our shared view that Shell's lease...is valid, we have made the decision to utilize Terminal 5 under the terms originally agreed upon by the parties involved — including the Port of Seattle," Shell spokesman Curtis Smith told the Associated Press in an email Tuesday. "Rig movement will commence in the days to come."

A second 30-story-high drilling rig, the 'Noble Discoverer,' is also headed to the city this week. That vessel, too, was met by a small fleet of paddling protesters.

AP journalist Phuong Le posits that the fight over Shell in Seattle marks a "pivotal moment for an environmental movement increasingly mobilized around climate change."

Le writes:

Environmental groups in the Pacific Northwest are sensing a shift in the politics that surround energy production and have mobilized against a series of projects that would transform the region into a gateway for crude oil and coal exports to Asia.

"These proposals have woken a sleeping giant in the Northwest," said Eric de Place, policy director for Sightline Institute, a liberal Seattle think tank. "It has unleashed this very robust opposition movement."

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