Kayakers paddling in Seattle Port chant, “Shell No”

SEATTLE – Protesters paddled and rowed in a vast flotilla of tribal dugout canoes, kayaks, row boats, surf boards, rubber dinghies, and sailboats, Saturday, May 16 to the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5 to confront Shell Oil’s monstrous Arctic Ocean drilling rig tied up here. 

“Shell NO,” the protesters chanted, hammering on their kayaks with their paddles or fists. “Climate Justice NOW,” they roared at the rig, which loomed like an enormous, yellow Darth Vader at Terminal 5 along the mouth of the Duwamish River.  

The protesters came from the Seattle and Tacoma area but also from throughout Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands and the North Olympic Peninsula. This reporter came with Brian Grad, a fellow member of both Clallam MoveOn and Olympic Climate Action that mobilized protests against the Shell drilling rig when it was moored in Port Angeles harbor for two weeks, hoping the storm of protest would die down. Instead, it has grown steadily louder and more angry. Brian rowed and I served as coxswain giving orders from the stern of his row boat as we joined the flotilla.

Sitting on a flat-topped buoy floating nearby was a family of harbor seals who barked joyously at all the excitement. One little wide-eyed fellow swam up and crawled on to the aft deck of a kayak, hitching a ride to the waterborne rally.

Alan Rosada, paddling his kayak from the boat launch at Seacrest Park on Alki Point told this reporter he lives on Orcas Island. “To be going down this path, more offshore drilling after the catastrophes we’ve suffered, its just insane,” he said. “We must push for alternative energy like solar.”

Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace U.S., one of a coalition of groups that organized the “Shell NO Flotilla” surveyed the hundreds of kayaks, the chanting protesters and told the People’s World, “When I look at this, I see democracy in action. People have come together to raise their voices not our sea levels.” 

She said the protesters understand the science. “Drilling for oil in the Arctic is incompatible with a sustainable future. We are out here because we want a sustainable future and we know it is possible.”

She pointed out that Royal Dutch Shell defied the opposition of Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and a unanimous vote of the Seattle City Council in towing the oil rig here from Port Angeles. The company claims a lease agreement was approved by the Seattle Port Commissioners. But the deal was reached in deep secrecy with no input from the people of Seattle or the rest of the Puget Sound community. Shell thumbed its nose at a request by the Port Commissioners that they delay the arrival of the rig until differences with the Mayor and City Council could be ironed out.

“What is on the line here is not just the future of our planet but democracy,” Leonard added. “Who is in charge here? Is it the people and our elected officials? Or is it a multinational oil company with a horrific environmental and human rights record?”

Seeking to avoid paying Alaska state taxes, Shell hastily removed an offshore rig, Kulluk, in late December 2012, towing it with cables through a storm raging at 70 miles per hour. The cables snapped and on Jan. 1, 2013, the rig ran ashore on an island near Kodiak. The rig had 150,000 gallons of diesel on board. Environmentalists warned that this reckless operation proves that Shell Oil puts profits first, the environment and worker safety be damned.

Annette Klapstein, a member of Seattle Raging Grannies, told the World her organization joined the “Shell No Flotilla” to add their voice of outrage. The Polar Pioneer rig is “a horror! A monster,” she charged. “I am also horrified that our elected Port Commissioners ignored the people’s wishes. They knew we didn’t like it. That’s the reason they approved this lease behind closed doors. The Mayor and the City Council came out against it. The Port Commissioners and Shell Oil basically thumbed their noses at the people and the city government.” 

Shell drilling in the arctic “will guarantee that we will have catastrophic climate change,” she said. When asked what alternative she seeks, Klapstein replied, “First, corporations no longer rule the world. Second, we have a real democracy that invests in green energy, well-paid family wage jobs for everyone.”

Hundreds of Native Americans joined the protest, including members of the Duwamish and Snohomish tribes who led the flotilla paddling their handsome dugout canoes. Among them was Faith Gemmill, who lives in Arctic Village, Alaska. She is a member of the Athabaskan tribe. 

“We are the ones who live closest to where Shell Oil wants to drill for oil,” she told the People’s World. “We will be the ones most directly impacted. Studies show that there is a 75 percent chance of an oil spill. These oil companies have no consciousness of what it is like to live in the arctic. They already have access to ninety-five percent of our shoreline. They have no respect for the people, for the wildlife, for the oceans. I say ‘Shell No!'”

Photo: Tim Wheeler/PW


Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler has written over 10,000 news reports, exposés, op-eds, and commentaries in his half-century as a journalist for the Worker, Daily World, and People’s World. Tim also served as editor of the People’s Weekly World newspaper.  His book News for the 99% is a selection of his writings over the last 50 years representing a history of the nation and the world from a working-class point of view. After residing in Baltimore for many years, Tim now lives in Sequim, Wash.