By Christine St. Pierre          Photo by Linda Wolf

“Don’t like Shell’s ice cold views on global warming?” “How much does a polar bear weigh? Enough to break the ice!” “You seem like you enjoy vacationing on the beach. Save the beaches!” “Does your little one love snacking on fish sticks?” “Ever seen Waterworld? Let’s make sure that doesn’t become our reality.”
Years ago, I used dozens of these catchy, shallow one-liners to draw peoples’ attention to me, the 5’ 3’’ Greenpeace canvasser standing in the pouring rain on 4th and Pike with a clipboard and the determination to get you to join the ranks of others who wish to keep Shell out of the arctic. In a perfect world, I could have looked you in the eyes, reached my hand in your direction, and said, “Shell oil plans to drill for fossil fuels in one of the most wild, hostile environments on Earth,” or, “One isolated oil spill endangers the Indigenous communities and species thriving in the arctic ocean, as well as the entire planet,” or maybe, as actress and activist Jane Fonda recently pleaded at a rally in Seattle, “This is the fight of our lives.”
But the world is not perfect, and, statistically, using corny one-liners provokes you to stop and talk with people like me much more frequently then us shouting, “Did you know 13% of the planet’s undiscovered oil is thought to rest beneath the Arctic Ocean? Seems like a lot! But at our current rate, that’s only three years of consumption! Is that worth irreversible environmental devastation?”
Why? Because you don’t want to be bummed out, confronted, shocked—because you’re on vacation or a quick lunch break or you would rather go home and research this issue on your own. More often than not, you’ll keep walking, shouting an apology that grows fainter with every footstep. And, more often than not, you won’t research more at home. You’ll forget about what I said, why I was standing there. But eventually, inevitably, we’ll find ourselves standing side-by-side on the frontlines of one of the most threatening capitalist schemes in human history.
The movement didn’t start with Greenpeace or me or you; it has been happening for decades: we the people are silenced while fossil fuel lobbyists and greedy politicians shake hands in the crooked corridors of DC, sending fleets of oil rigs into heavily populated, pristine environments, causing massive disasters like the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska or the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Many don’t believe their voices can be heard by the fossil fuel mafia or politicians who are positioned to hear our cries—that one person can’t make a difference. But if everyone believes that, then there is no movement—only surrender.
In 2013, provoked by massive people power, the federal government barred Shell from drilling in the Chukchi Sea following a series of accidents during exploratory drilling in 2012, i.e. Shell’s drilling rig Kulluk running aground off the coast of Alaska. The U.S. Coast Guard blamed this embarrassing uh-oh on “inadequate management and assessment of risks” in icy, storm-tossed waters, according to its final report on the accident. News spread about the operating rig pleading guilty to eight felony offenses and paying $12.2 million over falsifying records that would prove the oil rig outdated and unfit for such demanding conditions. Shell temporarily halted the project, and many of Shell’s executive staff publicly expressed doubts about the low financial reward of such a high-risk operation, which is why many were outraged at the Obama Administration for allowing Shell (of all companies) to drill for oil off of the Alaskan coast this year.
Aside from threatening the food supply and livelihood of the four-million people living in the arctic, many of whom, like the Inupiat, are Indigenous communities, along with the seventeen whale species, thousands of migrating birds, endangered polar bears and stellar sea lions, and other life depending on this delicate ecosystem, here’s why we should all be concerned:

• The area is extremely remote, with manic weather, icy waters, hurricane-force storms, sub-zero temperatures, endless winter darkness, and waves up to 50 feet in height. There are no service roads or deepwater ports for hundreds of miles, delaying rapid rescue and cleanup when (not if) an accident occurs. The closest Coast Guard equipped for responding to oil spills is stationed 1,000 miles away.
• It took BP three months to control its ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico. A cleanup in the drilling areas in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas boasts entirely different obstacles. The aforementioned extreme conditions threaten to prevent rescue access, freeze cranes, and deem oil dispersant chemicals useless.
• And then there’s the ice. A spill, detected or undetected, could spread beneath the surface of the ocean, traveling beneath ice flows hundreds of miles. There is potential for ice to become frozen in the oil within just four hours of exposure, where it could remain until the ice melts, whenever that may be.
• The successful drilling of vital relief wells, necessary for capping a ruptured well, could not be guaranteed in the drilling season’s few summer months before winter ice—and towering icebergs—returns.
• Shell claims it can clean up to 95% of spilled ice, a fantastical statistic considering the relative Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska which cleaned 9% of oil in 1989 and BP’s mere 17% in 2010. According to the US Geological Survey, 1-20% of Beaufort/Chukchi oil could be recovered.

Amidst a global movement to wean off of fossil fuels and redirect our focus on green and clean energy sources, a push to drill in hazardous, fragile waters for a small portion of energy is a giant setback. Recently, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray stood with activists and kayactivists amidst the port city’s positionality in the eye of the storm, “To prevent the full force of climate change, it’s time to turn the pages on things like coal trains, oil trains and oil drilling rigs. Its time to focus the economy on the future: electric cars and transit, green homes and environmentally progressive businesses.” The mayor and many Pacific Northwesterners have held strong in opposition against the presence and portage of Shell’s Arctic Fleet, including the drill rig Polar Pioneer. Folks have climbed it, blockaded it, and created a human flotilla in its path, but the fleet as begun its journey to Alaska.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has received hundreds of thousands of phone calls from people like you and me over many years of persistence opposition. The Obama administration has received letters written by entire nations, unions, organizations, and individuals pleading for a ban on arctic oil drilling. We’ve seen what people power can do: so far, we have succeeded in pushing the Obama administration to block the Keystone XL pipeline and create stronger regulations for coal-fired power plants. It’s not too late to match your voice with the countless others who can no longer sit idle while one of the last remaining frontiers of the Far North is plundered for money. Start by signing one or all of the online petitions linked below.

Save the Arctic—Tell Obama

Stop Shell’s Dangerous Offshore Drilling Exploration in the Arctic

Stop Shell from Drilling in the Arctic!

Save the Arctic—Stop Shell

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