Kayaktivists Protest Shell’s Arctic Rig in Seattle
Antonia Juhasz: The Obama administration has issued the most important licenses to Shell to operate in the sensitive Chukchi Sea in spite of its disastrous record
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
It’s been quite the week in oil and anti-oil activity. California governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on Wednesday after a ruptured pipeline spilled an estimated 105 thousand gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean off Santa Barbara. And then on Monday, a waterborne blockade of hundreds of kayaktivists attempted to block the oil giant Shell Oil from mooring its Arctic drilling rig in Terminal 5 of the Port of Seattle. With us to discuss these developments is Antonia Juhasz. Antonia has recently penned an article in the Rolling Stone magazine titled Meet the Rappers and the Kayaktivists Out to Stop Shell’s Giant Oil Rig. Welcome, Antonia.
So Antonia, earlier this month the Obama administration made the decision to permit Shell its oil permit to explore further into sensitive Chukchi Sea. Is this now a done deal?
ANTONIA JUHASZ, JOURNALIST, OIL AND ENERGY ANALYST: No it’s not. So the administration gave preliminary approval for Shell to move into the Arctic to do this drilling. But there’s still a few permits left. But Shell has been operating as if it’s a done deal and moving forward with its plans even without those final permits. And really, the most significant permits have already been made, and it’s unfortunately quite likely that this is going to move forward.
So what Shell is doing now, May 14th, its Polar Pioneer offshore drilling rig arrived in Seattle. And I think very importantly, this rig is owned and managed by Transocean, and Transocean is the same company that Judge Carl Barbier in Louisiana found guilty of negligence for its role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster because there too it was the owner and manager of that same rig. BP’s Gulf–that led to the largest offshore oil drilling spill in world history in the Gulf of Mexico. And so this Polar Pioneer also now managed by Transocean arrived in Seattle, and the plan that Shell has is that the rig will be parked in Seattle eight months out of the year, and then during the other months, what are considered the warmer months in the Arctic, it will move to drill during that time in the Arctic, and then go back to Seattle to park the rig there again.
And as your viewers probably know, the Seattleites are not particularly happy about that. Nor are the people who live in the Arctic.
PERIES: So would you consider what happened in Seattle, this kind of activism, and very creative activism at that, taking hold? Is it having an effect, is it successful?
JUHASZ: Again, it just, just happened. So last Saturday there was the start of a festival of resistance, and the organizers when they found out of Shell’s plans in January, that it would be bringing the rig to Seattle, started organizing from that point, and starting in March started focusing on these two days of actions.
So the first was on Saturday, 500 people had a waterborne protest that included kayaktivists, as they’re calling themselves. People in kayaks, people in boats. Native and indigenous communities from the Seattle area and Alaska in canoes, who led the movement towards the rig. So they surrounded the rig, or got as much as they could surrounding it, in Elliott Bay in Seattle. And then the Native leaders actually led a push even closer in towards the rig than had initially been planned. And then they also led the exit from the protest.
So this was incredibly colorful, incredibly creative on Saturday, basically saying we don’t want you here, Shell. And then where I was, I came on Monday, which was for the direct action. And that was a civil disobedience in which the activist goal was to say, okay, Shell has this really small window within which it needs to get out to the Arctic to take advantage of those warmer drilling months. And they want to slow that process down and basically keep it from happening. So what they did on Monday was block the entrance to the terminal building where the rig is being held so that the workers couldn’t get to the rig. And in that they succeeded.
I spoke to a port representative, because Shell wouldn’t respond to questions, that said that knowing that the protest was going to happen, Shell kept workers away. And people, organizers who were there said that they saw employees show up and were turned away. And what the port representatives said to me was Shell had what it called a slow work day. So from the perspective of the organizers that’s a success, because it’s disrupting Shell’s ability to get, to keep the schedule.
And this too was really in many ways a festival because the people who I cover in my story really had a focus on music, and hip-hop, and making this a festival of resistance. So where we were, where they were blocking the entrance, we were there for five hours holding the space. And it turned into a dance party. There were DJs and rappers and performers, and that was a really unique and creative part of the protest.
PERIES: And this is, Seattle is a fairly progressive city. And I understand that the Mayor and the City Council are also against Shell and the drilling equipment being there. Do you think this will have a spillover effect into other cities?
JUHASZ: You know, I don’t know. This was certainly unique. And part of what made it unique was actually the experience of a major city outside or Texas or Louisiana or Alaska in the United States, actually seeing one of these rigs and what they look like. They’re enormous. It’s almost 400 feet tall, it’s 400 feet wide. Half the size of the Space Needle. Seeing this thing pull into your harbor, I know is very intense for all sorts of Seattleites. Everywhere you went there were people posting signs in cafes and bars and wherever, saying we don’t want this rig here, we don’t want Shell here. And that’s a typical experience for people, or the sight of these rigs is a typical experience for people in Louisiana and the Guff Coast. But very rare for anyone else.
And it’s really a part of the way that we’re moving into extreme energy. Whereas it used to be that oil development was happening in much more limited places and only limited frontline communities were coming in contact with it. Now with fracking, with the expansion of offshore drilling, with these new modes of production, with trains carrying oil moving through people’s cities being dubbed bomb trains because of their tendency to explode. More and more and more people are being exposed to the reality that people around the world have had to deal with for a much longer time period. And that reality can be very dangerous and disturbing and devastating.
And I think this rig being in Seattle sparked a bigger awareness. And then what I wrote about, which I really was very proud of this story, in that there were three women who I focused on. All women of color who had very personal experiences of climate devastation, and devastation on their lives and the lives of their families caused by worsening climate change and the oil production as well, who then became, used music and hip-hop as tools to turn their activism and–turn their stories into activism and into something that could then change that story that they had experienced themselves.
And I think their stories are very powerful, and very important to be told, and not stories that are frequently told in the press.
PERIES: Antonia, it’s wonderful that you’ve done this piece, and also I think the activists are really getting creative in the sense–having those kinds of images make it very effective for the rest of us imagine how to fight back along these struggles. Thank you so much for joining us today.
JUHASZ: Thank you for having me, as always.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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