'Kayaktivists' Try to Block Shell Oil Rig Leaving to Drill in Arctic

Some 50 Greenpeace-affiliated activists took to the Port of Seattle Monday to try and foil Shell's Arctic drilling plans

Monday's environmental action followed similar protests in May. Credit: Karen Ducey/Getty Images

Royal Dutch Shell's offshore oil rig, the Polar Pioneer, departed Monday morning from Seattle to Alaska's Chuckchi Sea, where it will spend the summer on an oil drilling expedition environmentalists warn could wreak havoc on not just the region but the globe, The Seattle Times reports.

As the rig set sea, some 50 activists defied the rig's 500-yard safety zone and took to kayaks and canoes in an attempt to disrupt its departure. Thirteen of the activists, including Seattle City Councilmember Mike O'Brien, were arrested.

Environmentalists have been protesting in Seattle and attempting to disrupt the rig's departure since January, when Shell announced plans to park the rig at the city's port for the eight months of the year it is not drilling in the Arctic. Local politicians, including Seattle's mayor, have attempted to kick Shell's rig out of the city, to no avail.

Last month, Rolling Stone reported on activists' efforts in Seattle to stop Shell's Arctic drilling plans, citing concerns that a spill could devastate Arctic wildlife and the ecosystem on which indigenous people in the region depend. Just last month, a rupture in the Plains All America Pipeline leaked more than 100,000 gallons of oil along the Santa Barbara coast, 20,000 of which flowed into the Pacific Ocean and sparked a massive cleanup operation.

Activists have also tackled Shell's plans from afar. For instance, last week in New York, satirical pranksters the Yes Men posed as Shell employees and gave out shaved ice from the "last iceberg in existence" to draw attention to the potential dangers of Arctic drilling.

Advocates say that even if the Polar Pioneer can avoid a spill in the more treacherous conditions of the Arctic, the environmental consequences of drilling in the region, where icebergs are already melting, could be significantly detrimental nonetheless.

A January study published in the journal Nature warned that drilling for Arctic oil and gas will have a significant impact on climate change.