By Victoria Cavaliere
SEATTLE (Reuters) - About 200 protesters gathered at the Port of Seattle on Monday to block access to a Royal Dutch Shell drilling rig headed for the Arctic this summer to resume exploration for oil and gas reserves.
Holding signs reading "Shell No" and "Seattle Loves the Arctic," protesters gathered early to prevent workers from reaching the rig, one of two that Shell will store in Seattle before sending to the Chukchi Sea off Alaska.
Environmental groups have planned days of demonstrations over Shell's plans, saying drilling in the icy Arctic region, where weather changes rapidly, could lead to a catastrophic spill that would be next to impossible to clean up.
They also say drilling would threaten the Arctic's vast layer of sea ice that helps regulate the global temperature and that they say has already been disappearing as a result of global warming.
"I'm joining in solidarity with the environmental community," Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant, who was among Monday's protesters, told KIRO Radio. "Any drilling of oil in the Arctic represents grave danger to all humanity."
Last week the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, gave conditional approval to Shell's return to exploration in the Arctic, which was suspended after a mishap-filled 2012 season. Some Alaska lawmakers welcomed the decision because, they said, it would bring money and jobs to the state.
Representatives from Shell could not be immediately reached for comment on the protests.
On Saturday, hundreds of activists in kayaks and small boats fanned out around the port in Elliott Bay. [ID: nL1N0Y70I5]
Shell's second drilling rig was due to dock at the Port of Seattle in coming days.
"People are so appalled to see this in Seattle,” said Emily Johnston, a spokeswoman for the environmental group 350 Seattle, about a city with a strong liberal reputation.
The city's planning department ruled last week the port's leasing of a terminal to Shell was in violation of its city permit.
Despite the opposition, Shell has said it was moving ahead with plans to keep the rigs in Seattle until mid-summer, when the drilling fleet and its crew plans to return to the Arctic.
(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Lambert)