On May 16, I joined hundreds of Seattle kayakers protesting the presence of Shell Oil’s Arctic drilling rig, the Polar Pioneer. It was in our port to be retrofitted for drilling in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea—a place that is only navigable about four months of the year. Named after the native peoples living on the Siberian edge of the sea, Chukchi is home to polar bear, whales, walrus, and numerous other northern marine mammals.
A month later (June 17), the gargantuan, newly outfitted rig was towed north out of Puget Sound. During that month, concerned citizens kept a continued presence of resistance around Pier 5—night light flotillas, blocked work zone access, and a kayak blockade to prevent the June 17 launch.
Protestors were arrested, including one Seattle City Councilor. They delayed the launch, but ultimately three huge tugboats and two U.S. Coast Guard defender class escorts overpowered the opposition and moved the yellow and blue monstrosity out of its temporary port. Nine hours later it passed in front of our Whidbey Island neighborhood.
I took the camera and ran to the beach stairs, then sat stunned on our landing as I took in the scale of corporate momentum versus the size and attention of protestors. I felt grief, despair, and anger as I watched that rig go by. I walked back to the house hardly knowing how to carry on with my Wednesday summer evening plans: ordinary life in a safe and beautiful setting.
And yet, when I drop into my deeper self, I know my action of opposition is not based on winning or losing. It is based on a moral imperative to stand for what my heart knows is “right.” I must hold the ambiguity of caring fiercely while not holding onto outcome. I must feel despair and still feel awe the next morning when a doe and her twin fawns wandered through our front yard.
Shell had spent over $5 billion dollars on its Arctic drilling program by 2012. (Wikipedia source) That year was the first it actually began drilling and it was fairly disastrous. Challenging weather conditions severely hampered drilling and then at the end of the year when Shell’s Kulluk oil rig was being towed to Washington state to be readied for the 2013 drilling season, a severe winter storm grounded it near the eastern end of Kodiak Island.
But Shell is determined to make this work. They received conditional approval to drill in the Chukchi Sea by President Obama’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in early 2015. Other permits will be needed before actual drilling commences—like the aforementioned permits for air travel in the drilling space and certification of oil spill equipment. But the Polar Pioneer is on its way and scheduled to move into the Chukchi Sea by July 1, 2015 where it will be moored and begin to drill exploratory wells.
As a citizen deeply concerned about the technological feasibility of drilling where oil response equipment is severely limited, and a spill under the ice would be a “catastrophe the likes of which the world has never seen.” (Niel Lawrence, Director of Natural Resources Defense Council’s Alaska Program), I must do something. As a citizen who believes that continuing the big oil pursuit of more fossil fuels moves our planet closer to a point of irreversible climate change, I must do something.
So, I am writing a letter to President Obama and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management encouraging a cessation of all drilling in this region. And I am keeping alive the dialogue in my community about global climate change challenges and alternatives. And I am sharing this story with you. When I know what else to do, I will do it.