Seattle, like it or not, becomes Shell's Arctic base

Seattle, like it or not, becomes Shell's Arctic base

SEATTLE (AP) — The arrival in Seattle Thursday of an oil rig Royal Dutch Shell is outfitting for oil exploration in the remote Arctic Ocean marks a pivotal moment for an environmental movement increasingly mobilized around climate change.

Activists paddling out in kayaks to meet the rig off Seattle's picturesque waterfront said it's their moment to stand against opening a new frontier of fossil fuel exploration.

"Unless people obtain out there & put themselves on the front lines & say enough is enough, than nothing will ever change," said Jordan Van Voast, 55, an acupuncturist who was going out on the water to confront the Polar Pioneer. "I'm hopeful that people are waking up."

p>About two dozen kayakers paddled around Elliott Bay as the towering rig passed the city's Space Needle. The tiny boats, which kept their distance from the rig, were dwarfed by the 400-foot (122-meter)-long structure rising nearly 300 feet (90 meters) above the water. The image suggests how outmatched Shell's opponents have been as they try to keep the petroleum giant from continuing its $6 billion effort to open new oil & gas reserves in one of the world's most dangerous maritime environments.

But environmental groups in the Pacific Northwest are sensing a shift in the politics that surround energy production, & have mobilized against a series of projects that would transform the region into a gateway for crude oil & 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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Shell's Arctic drilling vessel the Noble Discoverer arrives in Everett, Wash. on Tuesday, May 12 …

Shell still needs other permits from state & federal agencies, including one to actually drill offshore in the Arctic & another to dispose of wastewater. But it's moving ahead meanwhile, using the Port of Seattle to load drilling rigs & a fleet of support vessels with supplies & personnel before spending the brief Arctic summer in the Chukchi Sea, which stretches north from the Bering Strait between Alaska & Russia.

Hurricane-force winds & 50-foot (15-meter) waves can quickly threaten even the sturdiest ships in the seas off Alaska. But Shell cleared a major bureaucratic hurdle Monday when the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, after taking public comments & reviewing voluminous reports, approved the multi-year exploration plan.

If exploratory drilling goes well, Shell plans to invest billions more in infrastructure to open this new frontier, building pipelines under the ocean & onto the tundra of Alaska's North Slope, along with roads, air strips & other facilities.

Shell's last effort to do exploratory drilling in the Arctic Ocean moreover left from Seattle, & ended badly. The Noble Discoverer & the Kulluk — a rig Shell had spent hundreds of millions of dollars to customize— were stranded by equipment failures in terrible weather, & the Coast Guard barely rescued the Kulluk's crew. Federal investigations resulted in guilty pleas & fines for rig owner Noble Drilling.

The Kulluk ended up on a scrap heap in China. Shell is leasing the Polar Pioneer in its stead, again backed by the Noble Discoverer. But Shell says it gained has vital experience, & can safely drill on its leases in the Chukchi Sea, as well as the Beaufort Sea, an even more remote stretch north of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge where it moreover has leases.

Shell spokesman Curtis Smith called Monday's approval "is an significant milestone & signals the confidence regulators have in our plan."

Officials in Alaska have welcomed the drilling, even flying to Seattle this week to lobby for Shell's plan. Labor groups representing port workers noted that Foss Maritime is employing more than 400 people already to service the Shell fleet.

Royal Dutch ShellArctic OceanSeattlePort of Seattle

Source: “Associated Press”

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