Royal Dutch Shell’s Arctic drilling program has taken one step closer to gaining approval to begin drilling off the northwestern coast of Alaska, but furious environmentalists are planning to stop the oil rigs with a kayak flotilla.
After a public comment period came to an end, on Monday the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management approved the company’s oil exploration plan in the Chukchi Sea, the area between the northwestern section of Alaska and Russia above the Bearing Straits.
The company still has a series of regulatory hoops to jump through, but this week’s approval was a major hurdle.
The approval comes as a blow to environmentalists who planned a protest to stop the approval. That includes Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who is using the protests to burnish his environmentalist credentials.
Murray sees his opposition to the drilling plan as away to push global warming fears. “This is an opportunity for the port and all of us to make a bold statement about how oil companies contribute to climate change, oil spills and other environmental disasters – and reject this short-term lease,” he said in a public statement.
Calling themselves “kayaktivists,” the protesters plan to organize a blockade of activists piloting their one-man crafts to prevent the Shell’s ships from leaving Seattle’s ports.
These “kayaktivists” are planning a “festival of resistance” for the coming weekend in an attempt to hamper the movement of the 400-foot drill ship Polar Pioneer which is moving from Port Angeles, Washington, to the Seattle port.
But ahead of the promised attack on these ships, a federal judge ordered Greenpeace to stay away from the Royal Dutch Shell PLC ships.
Last week U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason prohibited Greenpeace from harassing the company’s ships and vehicles with unmanned drones.
The court has ordered Greenpeace to stay clear of Shell’s operations in the Chuckchi Sea, establishing a 5,000-foot buffer zone to be held in place until October 31.
But activist group Earthjustice decried the drilling plans. In a statement, the group’s attorney Erik Grafe railed that the approval of Shell’s plans os putting “big oil before people.”
“The agency should not be approving such threatening plans based on a rushed and incomplete environmental and safety review. Ultimately, Arctic Ocean drilling is far too risky and undermines the administration’s efforts to address climate change and transition to a clean energy future,” Grafe said.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at email@example.com