Obama Gives Final Arctic Drilling Approval, Activists Suspend Themselves From Bridge In Protest

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Last week, President Barack Obama gave Royal Dutch Shell PLC the final go-ahead to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea, just off the northwest coast of Alaska. Since the decision, the public, activists and conservationists have gathered to express their outrage, taking to the waters and even suspending themselves off of a bridge in protest.

“The president has made a big mistake allowing Shell back into the Arctic,” declared Center for Biological Diversity Alaska director Rebecca Noblin in a press statement. “The risks of a devastating oil spill in this harsh environment are just too great, particularly for a company with such poor performance record. This is a reckless move by a country that is still struggling to reduce its impact on global warming.”

Greenpeace ice class ship Esperanza tracking Shell's oil rig the Polar Pioneer on its way to drill in the Alaskan Arctic this summer in transit across the Pacific on board the heavy lift vessel Blue Marlin. Six people from around the world are tailing Shell's Arctic oil rig across the Pacific on board the Greenpeace ship Esperanza. As ambassadors of a movement of millions, the six men and women want to expose Shell's reckless plans to drill in the remote Chukchi Sea in the Alaskan Arctic. The Esperanza has been tracking Shell's monstrous oil rig the Polar Pioneer since it left Brunei Bay in Malaysia.
Image Credit: energydesk Greenpeace

However, the application’s approval is not without a set of conditions. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement have ruled that Shell is limited to drilling only the top sections of wells, up to 1,300ft deep, and are prohibited to drill in areas where oil is known to be. The restrictions will also prevent Shell from drilling deeper in the areas where oil is known to be until their vessel is equipped with a “capping stack” to prevent oil spills.

Earlier this month, the Finnish icebreaker, MSV Fennica, the only vessel Shell owns that has that capability, suffered damage to its hull. As a result, the 380-foot ice breaker was forced to dock in a Portland ship yard for repairs. Once the necessary repairs were made and the vessels departure time was announced, environmental activist, 13 from Greenpeace and an additional 13 people assisting them, suspended themselves from the St Johns Bridge in a bid to stop the icebreaker from heading north to the Chukchi Sea.

obama shell protesters
Image Source: MSNBC

Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace US, said: “Every second we stop Shell counts. The brave climbers here in Portland are now what stand between Shell and Arctic oil. This is President Obama’s last chance to wake up and realize the disaster that could happen on his watch.”

The approval of the drilling, which will pose a severe threat to the ocean ecosystem, climate, and coastal communities, is widely being seen as an example of Obama betraying his own second term pledge to make climate change one of his top three priorities. In January of this year, Obama “designated 9.8 million acres in the waters of Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off Alaska’s coast as off-limits to consideration for future oil and gas leasing.”

Additionally, Obamas final approval comes after scientists have warned that a third of oil reserves should remain unused in order to keep the global temperature rise “under the 2C safety limit agreed by the world’s nations.” Ultimately, the study concluded that “drilling in the Arctic is “inconsistent” with efforts to tackle climate change.”

This high-risk enterprise could have a “catastrophic impact on one of the most pristine, unique and beautiful landscapes on earth,” as according to Greenpeace, Shell’s plan to recover the oil if a spill does occur is more like a “negligence plan.”


Currently, environmental activist continue to dangle from the St Johns Bride in protest. On Thursday morning, the ship approached the bridge, but retreated shortly after. So far the activist have spent more than 24 hours in their midair protest site, with supplies are being lowered down for them as needed.

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