Seattle: It was the calm before the expected storm in Seattle on Friday as Shell’s Arctic-bound oil rig Polar Pioneer spent its first full day close offshore.
The Polar Pioneer is one of two huge rigs Shell plans to use in its summer Arctic drilling campaign in a few weeks. The Dutch oil firm’s fleet is meant to berth at Seattle’s Terminal 5 before heading north to the Chukchi Sea off Alaska where the exploratory drilling will begin.
Looming large against the city skyline, the Polar Pioneer is 400 foot long and stands 300 feet above the water. But that didn’t deter inspectors from the Seattle Department of Planning and Development who visited the port on Friday to make the formal determination as to whether Terminal 5, where the rig should be docked, is permitted for maintenance of oil services equipment.
However even if it is determined that the port is violating its usage permit, the punishments the city cane mete out are minuscule, amounting to fines of $150 a day for 10 days, and $500 a day thereafter until the port comes into compliance.
On Monday Shell got a partial green light from federal agency the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) when it approved the company’s drilling plan – but only conditional on the oil firm providing convincing evidence that it has the ability to quickly contain and clean up in the event of a spill. Shell still needs some other permits from state and federal bodies including one to actually drill in the Arctic
The Arctic drilling plans and the rigs have drawn plenty of flak and protests over recent months. Now that the Polar Pioneer is in place as the most conspicuous image of Shell’s Seattle presence, the scene is set for what environmentalists and so-called “kayaktivists” have promised will be a “Festival of Resistance” on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
As a judge’s restraining order against environmentalists prevents protesters coming too close to vessels of the Shell fleet the protests will have to be more creative.