In the annals of extreme protesting, there are tree-sitters and there are sleeping dragons. Add to these the bridge-dangle — a technique craftily employed by 13 environmental activists in Portland, Ore., who wish to prevent a ship vital to Royal Dutch Shell Arctic drilling from leaving the Lower 48.
“They are creating a human barricade so that the Shell icebreaker cannot get through,” Annie Leonard, the executive director of Greenpeace USA, told KATU in Portland. “They are prepared to stay up there for days because that’s what it is going to take to save the Arctic.”
The protesters took to the St. Johns Bridge over the Willamette River early Wednesday to block the icebreaker, named the Fennica, from heading north to protect Shell’s fleet from ice and respond to an oil spill, should one occur. As the Associated Press reported, the ship is being repaired after its hull was gashed in the Aleutian Islands after a collision with an underwater object.
“Shell’s under enormous pressure to get this thing back up there,” Leonard said.
The action comes after the Obama administration gave Shell limited permission for exploratory Arctic drilling in May.
The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Abigail Ross Hopper said the tentative approval was granted after consideration of “significant environmental, social and ecological resources” in the region, as The Washington Post’s Joby Warrick reported, and contingent on Shell meeting tougher restrictions intended to prevent spills and leaks.
“As we move forward, any offshore exploratory activities will continue to be subject to rigorous safety standards,” Hopper said.
“This is a long-term energy project that both we and the federal government agree could deliver critical resources in the face of growing, future demand for oil,” Shell President Marvin Odum said at the time.
The decision was widely decried by those concerned about climate change.
“Here are two facts that cannot be reconciled: The planet has experienced the warmest January-through-April on record, and the Obama administration has authorized massive new oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean,” The Post’s Eugene Robinson wrote.
Now, the bridge-danglers have struck a blow at the heart of Shell’s Arctic operation. As the AP explained: “Shell can only drill the top sections of wells because the company doesn’t have critical emergency response equipment on site to cap a well in case of a leak. That equipment is aboard the Fennica.”
The activists, supported by allies on the bridge and in the river below, reportedly have enough food to last a week and can move to let other ship traffic under the bridge. No arrests have been made.
“I think direct action is really powerful and also really inspiring because it shows people speak truth to power and what that looks like,” Georgia Hirsty told KATU in a Facetime interview as she dangled beneath the bridge. “And people who aren’t afraid to take more extreme messages and aren’t afraid to stand toe to toe. … Hopefully it doesn’t take a week for Shell to get the message.”
The oil company offered kudos — after a fashion — for the protesters’ attempt.
“As for the activities of the day, we respect the choice that anyone might make to protest based on Shell’s Arctic aspirations; we just ask that they do so safely and within the boundaries of the law,” Shell spokesman Curtis Smith told the AP.
“These climbers hanging on the bridge really are at this point the last thing standing between Shell’s plan to drill in the Arctic and the Arctic,” Annie Leonard of Greenpeace told the AP.
Views from the bridge: