Politics Blog

'Kayaktivists' plan protest of Shell’s oil spill response vessel in Bellingham

Local “kayaktivists” have decided to join the fight of their counterparts in Seattle, taking to the water to protest the Arctic Challenger, part of Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet that resides on Bellingham Bay.

A handful of Whatcom activists paddled rented kayaks into the bay Sunday, May 10, getting close to the Arctic Challenger, the oil company’s barge-mounted oil well blowout containment system. They held up small signs that said “sHell No” and “Save the Arctic,” and then left.

“This is an extension of a protest in Seattle,” said Rob Lewis, one of those who planned and participated in Sunday’s paddle. “We’re hoping to put together a larger group of kayaks to protest the Arctic Challenger.”

The group plans to go out on the water again during the annual Ski to Sea race Sunday, May 24. They’re protesting what they see as a possible connection between the lack of snow this season, which forced the cancellation of the race’s namesake ski legs, and oil use contributing to climate change, Lewis said.

“We can’t be certain if (the lack of snow) is a weather or a climate event, but we do think it’s time to take notice,” Lewis said. “We feel that Arctic drilling is somewhat close to madness. Studies are showing we can’t afford to burn the oil we already have, let alone discover more, especially in such a fragile environment as the arctic.”

Lewis said the group does not want to interrupt Ski to Sea, and will respect the 300-plus racers on the water.

“We’re trying to respect the event ... We want people to have fun, and we want to provide an opportunity for education and awareness,” Lewis said. “We’d like to have at least 15 kayaks on the water, but it’s really hard to say. I imagine for a lot of the skiers who can’t participate this year, there might be some desire to join in and protest things that threaten the climate.”

Crews built the Arctic Challenger’s unique systems at the Port of Bellingham’s shipping terminal throughout 2012, as Royal Dutch Shell geared up to try to drill that year.

As reported by former Politics Blogger and longtime Herald reporter John Stark, the system was built to “prevent the kind of prolonged oil hemorrhage that resulted when BP’s Deepwater Horizon erupted in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico.” In 2012, a Shell employee told Stark, “This state of the art containment dome would be deployed only as a fourth line of defense against an unlikely blowout.”

When tested in September 2012, as reported by KUOW , the Challenger’s containment dome crumpled under pressure, forcing Shell to postpone its drilling expedition.

This year, the company is again getting ready to go to the Chukchi Sea off the northwest coast of Alaska to drill. McClatchy reporter Sean Cockerham reported today (Monday, May 11) that Shell has conditional approval of its Arctic drilling plans from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, so long as it gets all the other necessary permits from federal agencies.

“Shell has spent some $6 billion so far on its Arctic offshore effort and has yet to extract oil,” Cockerham reports. “The company is pledging to have ‘the most environmentally sensitive, thoroughly responsible plan ever assembled for exploration offshore Alaska.’”

The company’s plans caused an outcry from environmentalists in Seattle earlier this year, after the Port of Seattle agreed to lease terminal space to the drilling fleet for the summer. The Seattle Times and others reported last week that Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said the port would need a new permit to allow that type of use.

Bellingham’s kayaktivists plan to meet again at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 13, at 1308 Cornwall Ave., (the old JC Penney building), Lewis said. Anyone can attend.