Shell, Scientists, and Seattle: If not now, then when?

 

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The image of Seattle kayakers protesting the Arctic-bound Shell oil drilling rig has inspired great excitement as well as derision: It is obvious to supporters and deriders alike that this action will not stop the drilling for gas and oil needed to halt global warming, or even to prevent drilling in the Arctic. It seems to be a token action, then…..but what, exactly, would work?

There is great consensus that drilling in the Arctic doesn’t make sense. If it goes well, more oil is extracted and burned, pushing the 2 degree temperature world even closer. If it doesn’t go well, if there is a spill or leak, the effect on the ocean, on deep currents, microbial and mammal ian survival could be catastrophic.

For scientists, the repercussions of drilling in the Arctic are even more straightforward.

In January, Nature article “The geographical distribution of fossil fuel unused when limiting global warming to 2 degrees C”, by Christophe McGlade and Paul Elkins, said that most coal, oil, and gas must be left in the ground as using it will send the temperature higher, and the specific reserves to be reserved were listed: all of the Arctic oil and gas, the authors concluded, should be left untouched.

In April, PNAS article (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) “Amplified Arctic warming by phytoplankton under greenhouse warming,“  lead author Jong-Yeon Park from the Max Planck Institute of Metoerology and colleagues reported on the central importance of the Arctic in the warm-induced blooms of phytoplankton. The fragility and importance of the Arctic to world climate was underscored.

Also in April, Science published two hopeful articles about the USA’s newly started position as chair of the Arctic Council, an 8-nation group with borders in the Arctic. Both articles- “One Arctic“, by new chair Fran Ulmer , and “U.S. lays out its ambitions for leadership in the Arctic”, by Carolyn Gramling, emphasize cooperation and research. However, while Gramling implies this will be directed at global warming, chair Fran Ulmer mentions the need to balance global warming issues with the demand for resources.

And indeed, in May, the Obama administration approved Arctic drilling , and gave Shell- despite its record of spills and bad management, conditional approval to drill in the Arctic.

So if we had a brief belief that politicians might actually promote effective actions and policies, we soon had a reminder that neither science alone or politics alone would be effective.

What can be done? What should scientists do? Anything they can. This is why scientists, activists, environmentalists, and local politicians came together in Seattle to oppose the staging of the Shell oil drilling rig in the Port of Seattle/Foss Maritime- because they realized that, if not now, then when?

In the fall of 2014, the Port of Seattle decided in secret meetings to lease a terminal to Foss Maritime, who would allow Shell to berth its rig at the Foss Maritime facilities in the Puget Sound, after an “intensive industry and labor lobbying effort”  to to use Seattle as a homeport for Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet.

When the contract to lease Terminal 5 of the Port  to Foss Maritime for the berthing of the Arctic Drilling rig was finally publicly disclosed in the new year, citizens swung into action.

Seattle activists and environmental groups began organizing in February . First came legal attempts . A coalition of environmentalists went to court to ask that the Port of Seattle’s lease with Foss Maritime be vacated because staging arctic drilling is opposed to the intent of the the Port to be a distributor of cargo and goods, and violated the State Environmental Policy Act and the Shoreline Management Act. Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council tried a similar strategy and declared the Port’s contract with Foss to be possibly inappropriate. The Port asked Foss to wait until there could be an investigation of the lease. Foss simply said no.

Saturday, May 16th, was a family-friendly kayak and shore event near the rig. Signs, singing, chanting on the Puget Sound.

The mass day of protest and civil disobedience ended peacefully on Monday, May 18th, when police refused to engage with the protesters blocking the Port’s Terminal 5, at the request of the Port. The protests had been well organized and communicated, and the Police and the Port no doubt decided to avoid bad publicity for themselves and to downplay the protests. Since the year had marked public outrage in response to 2 videos of disturbing Seattle police action (high school teacher Jesse Hagopian was pepper-sprayed while talking to his mother on the phone after the peaceful Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade and an older African American man was arrested and accused of assaulting a police officer for using a golf club as a walking stick), it’s easy to understand why arresting peaceful kayakers and other activists might not go well.

And also on the 18th, the City of Seattle declared that Shell and Foss Maritime lacked the proper permit to host the drilling rig, that the rig must be removed, and that proper permits must be obtained by June 4. Foss and the Port of Seattle are appealing the earlier determination that Foss could not use Terminal 5 for the rig.

Using a technicality to obtain a result seems opposed to the scientific method- but it is an important part of politics and the legal system. Scientists should learn to use the legal system, and find the collaborators that can help and provide expertise.

Scientists are taking a variety of approaches to fight climate change. For example, March 24th letter signed by climate scientists and biologists urged museums to not accept funding from the Koch brothers and from other associated with fossil fuel companies. (Signatures to the letter are still being accepted.)

Scientists were part of the planning and protests against the Shell drilling rig. Sarra Tekola is part of ShellNo!, a coalition of environmental and activist groups, and is a School of Environmental and Forest Sciences student at the University of Washington, where she is also involved with convincing the University of Washington to divest its investment portfolio of stocks in the fossil fuel industry. Tekola was advised, as many scientists have been, that science and activism could not be combined, but is proving that to be a conservative fallacy.

Susan Crane Lubetkin, with a Ph.D. in Quantitative Ecology and Resource Management, studied bowhead whales in the Arctic, testified at the Port meeting on the secrecy of the Foss contract, and has commissioned a musical piece on climate change. A Northwest Conservation Philanthropy Fellowship gave her the start on learning the advocacy techniques that could help science have an impact on environmental change.

Six environmental activists from Greenpeace climbed the drill rig mid-Pacific as it headed toward Seattle as a protest against drilling the Arctic. Australian Zoe Buckley Lennox is studying Environmental Science in Brisbane, and with American Aliyah Field, joined with the Backbone Campaign and other organizations to plan the days of activism. Lennox also testified at the Port meeting on May 12 about the damage that could be caused by Shell in the Arctic. For Lennox, research needs to be balanced with action through activism, in order to protect the world we share.

Protecting the world is a good reason to practice science, but data alone won’t save it. Find your people.

————

Update May 24rd

Environmental justice student at Western Washington University, Chiara D’Angelo remains attached (so far, for almost 2 days)  to the anchor chair of Shell ship “Arctic Challenger,” in Bellingham in protest of Arctic drilling. Activist Matt Fuller, who had joined her, asked for help to come down: the conditions are extremely uncomfortable. Kayakers rallied from Cornwall Beach in Bellingham in support of the activists.

Oh, and the Navy is planning war “games” in the Arctic.

Contributions welcome and needed for the sHELLNo! campaign!

–Update September 29, 2015

From Popular Resistance!

Major Victory: Shell Abandons Arctic Drilling
Greenpeace activists rappel off the St Johns Bridge, and join people in kayaks in the Willamette river to protest Shell Oil’s drilling in the Arctic. Shell’s Fennica ship is being repaired at Vigor Industrial, on July 29, 2015. Mike Zacchino/Staff
RESIST! ARCTIC DRILLING, SHELL, SHELLNO!
By Terry Macalister, www.theguardian.com
September 28th, 2015
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The Social Movement for Economic, Racial and Environmental Justice played huge role in the result: “Shell has also privately made clear it is taken aback by the public protests against the drilling which are threatening to seriously damage its reputation.”

Note: The movement has done an incredible job over the last three years protesting Shell’s arctic drilling culminating with the #SHellNo campaign this summer. The stock of Shell was dropping, its public image was taking a major hit and the company was going to see an escalation of protest against it. This was always a risky and foolish invesment. 1shell3

An important lesson for the movement, one we have seen repeated in our experience on a wide range of issues: you never know how close you are to victory. It looked like the protests had failed to stop Shell. They got their equipment into the Artic and began drilling. There were no indications of Shell giving up even last week. This should hearten all of those fighting what seem like impossible campaigs. You may be closer than you think. Keep fighting, never give up!

Of course, this is not over. There is still a rapacious desire for oil and we need to continue to push for an end to all licenses for drilling in the Arctic. We are urging people to take action to finish the job.

Send an email to President Obama today urging him to ban arctic drilling.
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Oil giant’s US president says hugely controversial drilling operations off Alaska will stop for ‘foreseeable future’ as drilling finds little oil and gas

Shell has abandoned its controversial drilling operations in the Alaskan Arctic in the face of mounting opposition.

Its decision, which has been welcomed by environmental campaigners, follows disappointing results from an exploratory well drilled 80 miles off Alaska’s north-west coast. Shell said it had found oil and gas but not in sufficient quantities.

The move is a major climbdown for the Anglo-Dutch group which had talked up the prospects of oil and gas in the region. Shell has spent about $7bn (£4.6bn) onArctic offshore development in the hope there would be deposits worth pursuing, but now says operations are being ended for the “foreseeable future.”

Shell is expected to take a hit of around $4.1bn as a result of the decision.

The company has come under increasing pressure from shareholders worried about the plunging share price and the costs of what has so far been a futile search in the Chukchi Sea.

Shell has also privately made clear it is taken aback by the public protests against the drilling which are threatening to seriously damage its reputation.

Ben van Beurden, the chief executive, is also said to be worried that the Arctic is undermining his attempts to influence the debate around climate change.

His attempts to argue that a Shell strategy of building up gas as a “transitional” fuel to pave the way to a lower carbon future has met with scepticism, partly because of the Arctic operations.

A variety of consultants have also argued that Arctic oil is too expensive to find and develop in either a low oil price environment or in a future world with a higher price on carbon emissions.

In a statement today, Marvin Odum, director of Shell Upstream Americas, said: “Shell continues to see important exploration potential in the basin, and the area is likely to ultimately be of strategic importance to Alaska and the US. However, this is a clearly disappointing exploration outcome for this part of the basin.”

“Shell will now cease further exploration activity in offshore Alaska for the foreseeable future. This decision reflects both the Burger J well result, the high costs associated with the project, and the challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment in offshore Alaska.”
The new cold war: drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic
Read more
Reacting to the news, Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said:

“Big oil has sustained an unmitigated defeat. They had a budget of billions, we had a movement of millions. For three years we faced them down, and the people won.

“The Save the Arctic movement has exacted a huge reputational price from Shell for its Arctic drilling programme. And as the company went another year without striking oil, that price finally became too high. They’re pulling out.

“Now President Obama should use his remaining months in office to say that no other oil company will be licenced to drill in the American Arctic.”

Related Posts:

Protests Against Shell Arctic Drilling Will Continue, sHELLno! June 1, 2015
Shell Oil Faces Long Odds With Arctic Drilling August 18, 2015
Shell Leaves Climate Project It Helped Set Up Amid Arctic Drilling Row September 11, 2015
Shell’s Arctic Drilling Faces Setback As Ship Forced Back To Port July 9, 2015
Kayactivists Across The Country Protest Arctic Drilling July 21, 2015
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