Farewell Polar Pioneer

Shell's Polar Pioneer preparing to leave the Port of Seattle, bound for the Chukchi Sea

Shell’s Polar Pioneer preparing to leave the Port of Seattle, bound for the Chukchi Sea

Royal Dutch Shell–yes, the same company that was going to destroy the Sacred Headwaters of the Skeena and Nass Rivers with coalbed methane extraction–towed it’s arctic drilling rig, the Polar Pioneer, out of Seattle yesterday. Based on their performance with the Kulluk (ran aground under tow off Kodiak Island) and other drilling platforms (one caught fire in an Alaskan port), I won’t be surprised if some mechanical breakdown or lapse of judgement stops them en route to the arctic. We just have to hope it happens before the thing is connected to the seafloor and pumping oil.

A couple more thoughts: There has been some criticism of the “kayaktivism” that Seattlites have engaged in during the month that the Polar Pioneer was in port here. It’s been said that these protests do little to stop oil exploration in the arctic. Some have even stated that people in kayaks with signs surrounding the rig are wasting their time. I disagree.

We’ve seen a number of these on-the-water protests, and while they’ve done little to stop or slow preparations aboard the drilling rig, they draw plenty of media attention and inspire further activism. Last week, police had to use power tools to cut apart a group of grandmothers who chained themselves together to block supplies from reaching the docks. And the number of people in kayaks swelled. When you have a City Council member arrested in protest, as we did a few days ago, people notice. When local politicians, including our Mayor, are motivated to work political channels in an effort to keep Shell from doing their work here, word gets out. This is just the most visible side of the battle to stop arctic oil exploration, and it’s about citizens who don’t want their city to participate in that drilling.

I did have an interesting conversation with a young woman who was preparing to join the waterborne protest from here on the Island. I asked if her group was going to paddle all the way over to Seattle, and she said some would, but that a number were taking power boats. I wonder if anyone in the group saw the irony in burning gas to get to the anti-oil-drilling protest?

Meanwhile, the less visible work to stop Shell from using Seattle as it’s oil-rig maintenance port, and in a larger sense, to stop arctic drilling in general, continues. But the kayak protests brought the issue to a wider audience, raised awareness, showed politicians how important the issue is, and helped bring in donors to the cause. That’s hardly a waste of time.

Skeena Protest Song

The Skeena River in British Columbia is one of the last great strongholds of wild salmon and steelhead on the Pacific coast. Unfortunately, it also happens to flow through some of the most resource-rich regions in the world, and makes a perfect conduit to Asian markets for tar sand oil from Alberta. The threats to this vital watershed are many and ongoing, but in light of Royal Dutch Shell’s withdrawal from the Sacred Headwaters earlier this year, and the recent eviction of Fortune Minerals from the same area by the Tahltan First Nations, thought I would post this video.

I met Rachel Van Zanten at a small party of enviros in Vancouver a few years ago. In addition to being a kick-ass slide guitarist and singer, she’s from the Skeena Country and has been working to protect her home waters. You can feel Rachel’s commitment in this song. Her video features some incredibly moving footage of the Tahltan elders’ heroic (and ultimately, successful) protest of Shell’s coalbed methane project in the headwaters of the Skeena, Nass and Stikine Rivers.

Lots of inspiring work going on up there, led by First Nations and conservation groups like the Headwaters Initiative, Skeena Wild, Watershed Watch, Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition and others. If you fish the Skeena and want to see it survive, please click on the links above and find out how you can support the effort. But really, saving a world treasure like the Skeena should matter to us all.