Protests to continue against Shell Arctic drilling

An aggressive legal strategy by Shell that aims to keep environmentalists from interfering with its drilling rigs has only emboldened activists who plan to protest and closely scrutinize the company’s Arctic drilling operations this summer.

Greenpeace activists have set sail in an ice-class ship, the Esperanza, and will be following Shell’s work from a distance, deploying submarines to check on marine life and using acoustic equipment to monitor how much sound is coming from the company’s oil drilling.

In May, anti-corporate pranksters The Yes Men staged an elaborate — and entirely fake — Arctic drilling celebration at Seattle’s Space Needle, complete with a derrick-shaped drink dispenser that spewed dark oil-like liquid all over a guest. A video of the hoax on YouTube steered millions of viewers to a fake Shell website and “Let’s Go! Arctic” advertisements, including one that portrays climate change and melting Arctic ice as “an opportunity” instead of an environmental crisis.

Environmental activists say they are finding new ways to shine a spotlight on Shell’s Arctic drilling plans, following the company’s successful pursuit of a federal injunction that bars protesters from encroaching on Shell’s drilling rigs or support ships in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas north of Alaska. Violations would mean hefty fines and potential jail time.

Greenpeace activists, including actress Lucy Lawless, were arrested in February after they boarded the Discoverer drillship as it sailed from New Zealand to Seattle.

In response, Shell convinced a federal district judge to issue  an injunction barring Greenpeace from interfering with Shell’s Arctic drilling operations.

“We know there is an injunction in place, but we will act according to what we think is in the best interests of the planet,” said Greenpeace’s senior oceans campaigner Jackie Dragon. “It does make things difficult, but it certainly isn’t something that is going to stop us. All they are doing is emboldening us to find better ways to get the word out.”

“Shell is really poised to open us up to a new rush of oil exploration, and there is so much at stake,” Dragon added. “The chapter is not nearly fully written yet on the different, creative ways that we will find to oppose this.”

Shell executives and Coast Guard officials say they are bracing for protests around Shell’s drilling.

Pete Slaiby, vice president of Shell Oil Co.’s Alaska venture, said that if a protester boards a drilling rig or support vessel, “it presents a hazard to the people who are doing it, the people who are working on the assets and the law enforcement folks who will have to do something about it.”

Greenpeace and other groups won’t say exactly what they have planned — only that they will do more this summer to highlight concerns about the Arctic drilling they say imperils the region, wildlife in the area and the native Alaskans who depend on it.

Greenpeace’s Dragon said the group wants to keep close watch on Shell’s activities in the remote Arctic waters.

Greenpeace pledges that the sound recordings and other data it collects in the Arctic will be sent to scientific researchers — with plans to swiftly release some of the information for the public online.