Royal Dutch Shell Strikes Out in the Arctic, Kayactivists Rejoice

Written by Terry Gardner

Tweets + Facebook + kayaktavists = win as Shell finally agrees to retreat from Arctic drilling in Alaska for the “foreseeable future.” Terry Gardner.

terry-gardner-anewdomain-geniuspack-backpack-review-geniuspack-intelligent-backpackaNewDomain — On September 28, Royal Dutch Shell announced that the return on its investment for the Burger prospect doesn’t justify continuing its exploration for oil in the Chukchi Sea, about 150 miles from Barrow, Alaska. Seven billion dollars and little to show for it seems like a pretty good reason to call it a day. Although Shell mentioned concerns about future government regulations, I would like to think the company finally read the handwriting on the ice.

Below: Seattle: Greenpeace activists create a kayak blockade in mid-June to keep Shell’s Polar Pioneer oil rig from sailing from Seattle to Alaska.

Video: Kayaktivists Blockade Shell’s Arctic Bound Oil Rig

After all, Shell has had one mishap after another in Alaska, the worst of which was the grounding of the Kulluk drilling rig on December 31, 2012. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the Kulluk grounding accident was primarily caused by Shell’s inadequate assessment of the risk for its planned tow of the drilling rig in December, when weather creates hazardous conditions on the water.

A little background (or, Shell never had a good plan to deal with accidents anyway)

In 2012, I asked Congress to have Shell prove it could clean up ketchup in the Arctic after finding the below Oceana video, which shows one of Shell’s planned “methods to clean up a spill” failing in a test conducted by the state. Fortunately, Shell experienced a series of delays that summer and was only about to conduct preliminary drilling. Then, when it failed to get the Kulluk rig out prior to December, the rig ran aground on December 31.

Bad luck, or bad engineering?

Video: What If An Oil Spill Happened in the Arctic?

Summer blockades of 2015

Social media efforts such as the #ShellNo Twitter campaign pressed Shell to reconsider Arctic drilling. Calls and letters to government officials helped, along with protestors game to paddle for change or hang off of bridges. Local politicians like Seattle Councilman, Mike O’Brien, were also key motivators in Shell’s about face.

When the U.S. Coast Guard detained two dozen kayaktavists (activists in kayaks) that were blocking the path of Shell’s oil rig freighter, O’Brien was among the detainees.

Video: Greenpeace and kayaktivists protest Shell Oil at St. Johns Bridge

On July 29, Greenpeace activists rappelled off of St. John’s Bridge in Portland, Ore. to try to stop Shell’s icebreaker ship from passing through. Kayaktavists also attempted to form a blockade under the Bridge to keep the ship from passing. The ship still made it through, but somebody at Shell must have started sweating.

Reaction to the breaking news

Environmental groups are celebrating Shell’s exodus, and the Seattle City Council issued a statement from Councilman O’Brien:

From the beginning I have said life as we know it depends on bold, immediate action, especially when a harbinger of catastrophic climate change is moored in our backyard. The people of Seattle, the Mayor, and the Seattle Council were resolute in our opposition to Shell’s presence in our city and it’s pursuits in the Arctic.”

Why we must stay proactive

While Shell tucks its tail and heads for the hills, Hilcorp Energy is chomping at the bit to swoop in and drill. Its subsidiary, Hilcorp Alaska, is petitioning for the rights to build an island in the Beaufort Sea to suck up oil from deep below the Arctic waters. So we really can’t celebrate Shell’s retreat until the government stops granting oil exploration leases in the Arctic.

Many environmental organizations are beseeching President Obama to stop granting any oil leases in the Arctic. We hope the President will step up for the environment again, as he did with the Keystone Pipeline, and say “no” to further permits and oil leases.

Halting Arctic drilling can protect wildlife along with the planet, because we really don’t know what will happen if drilling makes the Arctic even less stable than it currently is. Aren’t melting glaciers and drowning polar bears a sufficient sign that we should not do any more damage to the Arctic?

Greenpeace, Sierra Club and Oceana have created petitions to ask President Obama to say “no” to any drilling in the Arctic.  I’ll be signing all of them to make sure the President gets the message.

For aNewDomain, I’m travel editor Terry Gardner.

Featured image: Kayak Protesting Shell by Backbone Campaign via Flickr