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Activists Try to Block Shell's Oil Rig As It Departs for the Arctic

For the first time since its accident prone 2012 attempt, Shell plans to conduct exploratory drilling operations in the Arctic Ocean.
Photo via Greenpeace

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More than a dozen people were arrested this morning after taking to the waters of the Port of Seattle in kayaks and canoes in an attempt to block the departure of a Shell oil rig bound for the Arctic.

Greenpeace activists and local community members arrived around sunrise, said Paloma Henriques, an activist with Greenpeace who was among those arrested. Seattle City Council member Mike O'Brien also joined the group, according to Reuters.


A few hours into the protest, the US Coast Guard arrested 13 people and issued civil citations for unauthorized entry into a safety zone, according to Greenpeace. The citation comes with a $250 fine.

"I was willing to put myself in the way and put myself at risk because I think the biggest risk is drilling in the Arctic," Henriques told VICE News. "President Obama has an opportunity right now to listen to the people that are out there speaking truth to power."

In May, the Obama administration gave conditional approval to Shell's proposal to resume drilling in the Chukchi Sea, which lies off the northwestern coast of Alaska. This summer will be the first time Shell has returned to the Arctic since 2012, when its exploratory drilling program was plagued by mechanical failures and its drilling vessel Kulluk ran aground on an island near Kodiak, Alaska. Last month, the National Transportation Safety Board found that "Shell's inadequate assessment of risk" was responsible for the Kulluk incident, according to the Associated Press.

Environmentalists have criticized Obama's decision, arguing that fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground for there to be any hope of heading off dangerous levels of global warming. They also worry about a spill in the environmentally sensitive and harsh drilling conditions of the remote Arctic.

"We respect the rights of individuals and organizations to express their opinions related to our Arctic drilling aspirations. We only ask that they do so safely and within the boundaries of the law," Shell spokesperson Curtis Smith told VICE News. "We have already implemented lessons learned from our 2012 season and have engaged extensively with the regulators."


The Polar Pioneer left the Port of Seattle today and moved into Puget Sound, Reuters reported. It appeared to become delayed for several hours near Fay Bainbridge State Park after more kayakers paddled out to protest, according to Deborah D'Angelo, a resident of Bainbridge Island and the mother of one of the protesters arrested in Seattle.

Kayak protests are planned along the Washington coast in the following days, D'Angelo said.

Related: Shell plans to drill in the Arctic this summer and it's already failed a Coast Guard inspection

Follow Laura Dattaro on Twitter: @ldattaro

Photos via Flickr