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Woman who tied onto anchor chain in Bellingham Bay says protest was necessary

FILE - In this Friday, May 22, 2015 photo provided by Reese Semanko, Chiara D’Angelo hangs suspended in a climbing harness from the anchor chain of the Royal Dutch Shell support ship Arctic Challenger in the harbor at Bellingham, Wash. In her defense, D’Angelo argues that that her illegal action was necessary to avoid more serious harm; she faces a $20,000 fine.
FILE - In this Friday, May 22, 2015 photo provided by Reese Semanko, Chiara D’Angelo hangs suspended in a climbing harness from the anchor chain of the Royal Dutch Shell support ship Arctic Challenger in the harbor at Bellingham, Wash. In her defense, D’Angelo argues that that her illegal action was necessary to avoid more serious harm; she faces a $20,000 fine. AP

A protester who attached herself to Shell’s Arctic Challenger in Bellingham Bay argued the act was necessary to a Coast Guard hearing officer Monday, Feb. 29.

Chiara D’Angelo, 21, clipped onto the oil spill response vessel’s anchor chain May 22, 2015, and stayed there for three full nights. She was joined for part of one night by Matthew Fuller, and supported by a team that delivered food and supplies as needed.

D’Angelo faces a possible $20,000 fine, and could have been fined up to $160,000, for crossing and staying inside a Coast Guard-established safety zone around the vessel.

D’Angelo and her lawyer argued in Seattle Monday morning, via a video feed to a hearing officer in Arlington, Virginia, that her illegal action was necessary to avoid more serious harm — an argument known as a “necessity defense.”

I acted to prevent harm. There was a 75 percent chance of a major oil spill in Inupiat harvesting territory. ... If you have this disaster there, you take out their food source.

Chiara D’Angelo, who clipped onto an oil spill response vessel in Bellingham Bay last May.

Basically, they argued that the harm she might cause by climbing onto the chain to prevent the Arctic Challenger from leaving Bellingham was less than the possible harm if the vessel went to the Chukchi Sea and enabled “one of the riskiest offshore drilling operations of all time,” D’Angelo said by phone Monday afternoon.

The Challenger’s barge-mounted oil well blowout containment system had to be present for the offshore drilling to take place.

“I acted to prevent harm,” D’Angelo said. “There was a 75 percent chance of a major oil spill in Inupiat harvesting territory. ... If you have this disaster there, you take out their food source.”

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management predicted a 75 percent chance of a more than 1,000-barrel spill if the Chukchi Sea were to produce oil on several platforms over 77 years.

Shell’s fleet did go to Alaska last summer, but on Sept. 28, 2015, Shell announced it had abandoned its Alaska offshore drilling “for the foreseeable future” after finding the indications of oil and gas in that area were not enough to warrant further exploration.

Fines, continued process

The Coast Guard hearing officer works independently from the local unit that issued the civil penalty, and will hear from both sides before determining what fine, if any, to issue. Others involved in the action also face fines and will get separate hearings.

D’Angelo said she and her lawyers provided the hearing officer written and spoken testimony on climate change and explained her reasoning.

The hearing officer asked if the possible $40,000-per-day fines had deterred D’Angelo from entering the safety zone.

“I said not personally, the fines didn’t deter me,” D’Angelo said. “But that being said, I don’t ever plan on doing this again, because I don’t foresee it as part of my life path. It’s not what I’m going to dedicate my life to — direct action. It’s something that comes into play only when you need it.”

D’Angelo and her legal team have 10 days to file additional information. The hearing officer may clarify questions with the enforcing Coast Guard unit, and then will make an official decision.

Samantha Wohlfeil: 360-715-2274, @SAWohlfeil

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