Shell Arctic drilling rig departs Seattle surrounded by protesters

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 15, 2015 11:55 AM

SEATTLE (Reuters) - A Royal Dutch Shell PLC drilling rig that will search for oil in the Arctic pulled out of its temporary base in Seattle on Monday for the trip north to Alaska as dozens of activists in kayaks tried to stop its movement, authorities said.

Live television showed the rig being towed out of its terminal at the Port of Seattle with kayakers fanning out in an arc to try to prevent it from reaching shipping channels and heading out to the Puget Sound.

Greenpeace USA said the kayaks had slowed the rig's progress and that 13 protesters had been detained by the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard said the protesters would be fined for violating a safety zone around the vessel.

Seattle City Council member Mike O'Brien was among the activists who paddled out to oppose Shell's plans to resume drilling for fossil fuels in the Arctic, one of the most ecologically sensitive regions in the world, a spokeswoman said.

Environmental groups say looking for oil in the remote Arctic, where weather changes rapidly, could lead to a disaster in an area that helps regulate the global climate because of its vast layers of sea ice.

Activists also say an oil spill would be nearly impossible to clean up. Shell has told federal officials that its would be able to remove 90 to 95 percent of any oil spill.

The rig left Seattle on Monday even as the oil major waits on final permits from the federal government to return to the waters off Alaska after a mishap-filled 2012 season.

Last week, Shell cleared major hurdles when a federal appeals court struck down a challenge to its oil spill response plans and after President Barack Obama upheld a 2008 Arctic lease sale.

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Activists in Alaska have also vowed to keep pressure on the company ahead of its return to the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas next month.

Seattle city leaders, including Mayor Ed Murray, also accused Shell of docking its drilling rig in the city's port without the proper permits.

Shell did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the kayak protests or the rig, the Polar Pioneer's, timeline north.

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Marguerita Choy)