Shell Oil sinks a drill bit into Arctic Ocean floor, as one of its crucial ships is delayed by aerial and kayak-borne protesters in Portland. In Washington DC, EPA sets tough new coal power plant emissions rules.
Thirteen Greenpeace climbers hanging on ropes from a bridge, along with hundreds of men, women and children in kayaks and small boats on the Willamette River below, bottled up the crucial Shell Oil icebreaker MSV Fennica for 36 hours, July 29th and 30th, delaying its departure from Portland Oregon after repairs in a dry dock. In a coordinated action which made one think of both the Tiananmen Square Tank Man and Cirque du Soleil, the Greenpeace demonstrators rappelled down from the 205 foot high St. John’s Bridge deck in pre-dawn darkness, hanging low enough over the river to be a human block of the ship. In the days before this, local groups assisted by kayaktivists from Seattle had organized hundreds of people to launch more than 70 tiny craft to paddle out into the channel to challenge the 380 foot ship. The protests centered not only on the dangers of oil spills in the fragile Arctic Ocean far from oil clean up facilities, but also on the perversity of the U.S. allowing more fossil fuels to be developed while it takes measures to reduce greenhouse gases from cars, trucks, building construction and coal power plants.
President Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy issued new “aggressive” CO2 emissions regulations for electrical generation on August 3, which will require "existing power plants to cut emissions 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, an increase from the 30 percent target proposed in the draft regulation.” The limit on greenhouse gas output by existing power plants has been expected, and even in its less stringent draft form has drawn scathing criticism from utilities and many coal-dependent states, who vow to fight the regulations in court. Many power plants are expected to be forced to close. “Climate change is not a problem for another generation, not anymore,” Mr. Obama said in a video about the new rules, which will also require more use of renewable electricity generation, like wind and solar. Coal burning for power is the nation’s largest source of CO2 and is a leading cause of ill health and damage to water and land. But coal has begun to be replaced by natural gas and renewable energy: More people now install solar panels than work in the coal industry, according to the Washington Post.
More images and info about the St John’s Bridge blockade available here.
The blockade of the Shell ship in Portland stood less than two days, before a flotilla of police and Coast Guard boats on the river and police mountaineering officers above on the bridge cleared just enough of the channel for the Fennica to escape down the Willamette R. to the Columbia, and the sea. She is now in the North Pacific, enroute back to Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, Alaska, and then on north to the Chukchi Sea to join Shell’s drill ships and support fleet. The 2600 nautical mile journey for the Fennica, which can make more than 13 knots, plus resupply time in Dutch Harbor, could get her to the drill site before mid-August. The ship carries an emergency well cap, a 30 foot “capping stack,” in case of leak or well blow out, which is required by Federal regulation to be present when Shell drills into oil-bearing strata. Until Fennica is in place, Shell has only provisional federal approval to start a 1300 foot ”top hole" and prepare for deeper drilling. The drill began turning, Shell announced, the same day the Fennica got through the Portland blockade.
"Shell isn’t just threatening polar bears and walruses with its drilling plans,” said Greenpeace on its website. "By tapping into a new source of oil—only accessible because of melting ice—it’s threatening the entire world with worsening climate change.” The Natural Resources Defense Council said that that Interior’s approval for Shell so far is a "misguided decision that lights the fuse on oil spills and climate disruption.” "What happens in the Arctic matters to us all," NRDC’s Franz Matzner said. "America is living with the floods, storms and heatwaves caused by climate change, and drilling for and burning more oil will only make it worse for our children – and for every succeeding generation.” Even before Shell got the go-ahead to prepare for oil drilling, many including U.S. Senators and Al Gore have strongly criticized the Obama Administration for allowing an “insane" Arctic permitting process despite the government’s increasing limits on other fossil fuels — and the growing importance to slow climate change by employing renewable energy to replace an increasing amount of oil and gas. Royal Dutch Shell, obviously, thinks otherwise and has spent billions of dollars on its bet that the world will not reduce its burning of petroleum.
The Fennica suffered a gash in its hull in the Aleutian Islands in mid July while preparing to leave for the high Arctic, and came south to Portland for dry dock repairs. Climate activists and opponents of Arctic oil drilling began public protests as soon as the ship entered Portland Harbor, while Greenpeace planned its skilled simultaneous multi-climber descent from the St. Johns Bridge in secrecy. As was the case of the huge kayak demonstration against Shell’s oil rig Polar Pioneer in Seattle, the dramatic and photogenic protest in Portland was planned to ignite a news story world-wide, not only trying to delay Shell’s work in the very short Arctic summer, but also hoping to bring more public pressure on President Obama to refuse Shell’s request. If Shell’s drill plan is finally approved by the Interior Department — and if it is successful — it will be the first time oil has been drilled for in American Arctic waters.
Shell’s drilling platform Polar Pioneer, which is now drilling the top hole at the site 80 miles NW of Wainwright Alaska, is accompanied by the drillship Noble Discoverer and a 25-plus ship Arctic drilling fleet. A sister icebreaker to the Fennica, the MSV Nordica, is north of the drill site, where Arctic Ocean pack ice begins. If ice is blown south toward the drill rigs, they may have to move away. Under other provisions of the conditional approval, Shell may use only one drill rig at a time, to protect whales and walruses which inhabit and migrate in the drilling area. The rigs will float above the well sites in about 140 feet of water, and are allowed there only between now and the end of September, when winter ice could begin to form. According to its plan, Shell also has placed required emergency oil spill boats and equipment in Wainwright and Kozebue, and in Barrow, from which Shell will fly aerial supply and personnel flights to the rigs.
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