Elaine Thompson / AP

Kayak protest launched as Shell Arctic drilling rig arrives in Seattle

White House conditionally approved Arctic drilling, but oil giant still lacks Seattle port permit to dock legally

About two dozen activists launched a kayak protest in Seattle harbor as a Shell oil rig destined for the Arctic arrived in the city's port.

Despite failing to obtain a city permit to dock the equipment, Royal Dutch Shell is preparing the rig for offshore oil drilling in the Arctic following conditional approval of the project earlier this week by the White House.

Activists vowed to block the rig after Monday's approval, and demonstrators paddled in Elliot Bay on Thursday in protest of the arrival of the rig named the Polar Pioneer.

Towering 300 feet above the water, the rig dwarfed the kayaks as the massive vessel was towed into the city's port. 

Seattle police officers on rescue boats enforced a 500-meter "safety zone" around the rig, local media reported. But protesters continued to paddle — saying that the rig was unwelcome in Seattle.

“Unless people get out there and put themselves on the front lines and say enough is enough, then nothing will ever change,” Jordan Van Voast, 55, who was going out on the water, told the Associated Press.

Shell still needs to obtain permits from the federal government and the state of Alaska in order to legally begin drilling this summer. Shell has not drilled in the Arctic since 2012 when its Kulluk drill rig ran aground in a mishap-filled season for the oil giant.

But not having a proper permit did not stop the rig from mooring at the Port of Seattle.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray warned the port that it could face daily fines for not obtaining the correct permit. Those fines can't exceed $500 a day. Shell hopes to tap into an estimated $6 billion of oil and gas reserves in the Arctic.

Murray on Monday told the port commission that the local land-use permit for the space leased to Shell’s Arctic fleet did not cover drilling equipment, reported the Seattle news weekly The Stranger.

The lessee of the space given to Shell, Foss Maritime, said it would move ahead without the permit and plan to appeal in the future, the newspaper added.

“The appeal process will take months to complete. In the meantime, Foss intends to provide its customer, Royal Dutch Shell, the services for which it contracted over the next few weeks as it prepares for the summer exploration season in Alaska,” a statement said, according to The Stranger.

In 2014, Arctic sea ice reached a record low, with the maximum extent of ice before the melting season the smallest on satellite record.

Scientists have predicted an ice-free summer in the Arctic by 2020, which will allow greater access to the region’s oil and gas reserves for companies like Shell.

Shell’s planned drilling site over the summer is more than 1,000 miles from the nearest U.S. Coast Guard base, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported last month, putting into question the ability of Shell or other authorities to respond to any potential spills.

Cleaning up oil if it spills beneath ice is considered nearly impossible, the paper added.

Shell officials told the Seattle Times the company had made major changes in its Arctic operation since 2012 — including expanding participation of maritime companies with more experience in Alaska and the region.

With wire services

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