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Bozeman’s Arctic Ocean Day of Action protests drilling in Arctic

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Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 18.39.24BY LEWIS KENDALL Chronicle Staff Writer

Paddling protesters took to local waters Saturday in an effort to protect the remote seas of the Arctic.

A handful of activists floated in kayaks on Hyalite Reservoir holding signs that read “Shell No” — a reference to oil and gas company Royal Dutch Shell, which, after receiving the federal green light in May, is expected to begin exploratory drilling in the Arctic this year.

“There are a lot of reasons to oppose drilling in the Arctic Ocean,” said Zack Strong, Arctic and Northern Rockies wildlife advocate for the National Resources Defense Council. “There’s a good chance of a spill, and if there is a spill there will be catastrophic impact on local systems. And it’s going to contribute to climate change. This is a no brainer place to not drill.”

The NRDC-sponsored event came as part of a larger day of action, which included events from Florida to Oregon. The Bozeman group’s form of boating protest known as “kayaktivism” took off in May when hundreds of demonstrators in kayaks paddled in the Port of Seattle, home to several Shell rigs.

“Everyone can connect to these issues, especially people in Montana. The things we value, like the outdoors, are so applicable,” said Catherine Schmidt, event organizer and NRDC environmental fellow.

Since May, Shell has been moving equipment in preparation for drilling in the Chukchi Sea, northwest of Alaska. But protesters cited the company’s lengthy history of Arctic blunders as proof that it cannot be done safely.

“The Arctic is not a place that we should be drilling,” said activist Carolyn Poissant. “The oceans are already dying. We just have to stop.”

In December 2012, on its way back to Seattle, Shell’s drilling rig, the Kulluk, ran aground off the Alaskan coast after its tow cables broke. The 28,000-ton platform was eventually retrieved and scrapped.

In its investigation report released 15 months after the incident, the U.S. Coast Guard chastised the multinational for its lack of preparedness, finding “inadequate assessment and management of risks…the most significant casual factor for the mishap.”

Additionally, the Coast Guard was “troubled by the significant number and nature of the potential violations of law and regulations…including the failure to report marine casualties, failure to report safety-related vessel issues, and improper/illegal bridge and engine room watch-keeping systems.”

The report also indicated that the timing of the trip — during the harshest weather period of the year — was motivated by Shell’s desire to avoid millions of dollars in taxes. The company has spent about $7 billion in its quest for Arctic oil over the last decade.

On Monday, Shell reported that it was sending one of its icebreaker ships to Portland, Oregon, for repairs after finding a 3-foot gash in its hull. The ship, named the Fennica, is one of two ice management and contingency vessels that Shell plans to use as it begins exploratory drilling. The company is awaiting two permits from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and environmental groups said that this recent development should delay the drilling process.

Several organizations, including Greenpeace, Oceana and the NRDC, penned a letter Tuesday to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, calling on Jewell to reject the necessary permits.

“The Fennica plays an important role in protecting the entirety of Shell’s fleet from ice,” Oceana attorney Mike LeVine told the Associated Press. “Without that protection, the oceans are at additional risk.”

In its 2014 environmental impact statement for Chukchi Sea drilling, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management indicated that, based on historical data and statistical estimates, there is a 75 percent chance that a spill of at least 1,000 barrels (42,000 gallons) will occur during the projected extraction period.

For its part, Shell proposes a three-tiered cleanup approach in the case of a spill, including “in-situ burning, use of dispersants and mechanical removal.” The closest Coast Guard station with the ability to respond to a spill is located more than 1,000 miles from Chukchi.

“We owe it to the Arctic, its inhabitants, and the world to work with great care as we search for oil and gas resources and develop those at the request of governments across the region,” reads a statement on the company’s website.

But Saturday’s protesters were optimistic about the power of communal activism to prevent the project.

“It’s pretty symbolic if you have (demonstrations) all over the country with people that have no connection to (the Arctic),” said Schmidt.

“It takes advocacy from many different fronts,” added NRDC attorney Giulia Good Stefani. “What’s been great about this movement is that we’ve had litigation in addition to the grassroots movement.”

These collected voices appear to be having an effect. On Thursday, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-OR, introduced a bill, cosponsored by five other senators, which would prohibit drilling in the Arctic Ocean.

“You have to take a stand or nothing is going to happen,” said Poissant.

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