On an overcast Sunday morning the beast in Port Angeles harbor stood on it’s own. The mother ship sits apart forlorn with nothing to adorn her empty deck. Polar Pioneer floats freely with it’s pontoons almost submerged. She draws 30 feet in the transit configuration. Two cranes lift their arms to the sky and a large support vessel snuggles up to her starboard or is it port side? Hard to tell because I don’t know which is the bow or stern of this seagoing rectangle.
When I pull out of my driveway and point the car down the hill towards town I can see the Pioneer’s central superstructure dead ahead. I will be glad when it has moved on but for now my curiosity is elevated beyond reason. This large metal island looks like one very expensive tchotche. And so it is. It’s about 550 million dollars worth of oil rig built by Hitachi Zozen in Japan and entering service in 1985. This rig has been in various parts of the world including Norway where it drilled 1,400 feet. Polar Pioneer is leased by Royal Dutch Shell from Transocean Ltd.
Drilling in the ocean is an expensive proposition anywhere but the Arctic has already exacted a large toll from Shell since 2012 when their exploratory drilling rig the Kulluk ran aground in Dutch Harbor Alaska. Soon to arrive in Seattle will be Noble Discoverer which will be the primary driller in the operation. Polar Pioneer is tasked with drilling a relief well in the event that the other rig has a blowout. Shell’s containment plan also includes a capping stack mechanism. This is a large submersible lid with a containment system to redirect the flow of leaking oil.
So what is the bottom line driving this game of petroleum roulette. Shell has over 5 billion dollars invested in Arctic oil already. This is leveraged against potentially 412 billion dollars beneath the Chukchi Sea. That kind of money train is hard to stop.
This where the protesters come in. Greenpeace and the local environmental organization sHell No! are planning to raise their voices and intercede in the name of protecting the Arctic ecosystem from irreparable damage. They are planning a kayak Flotilla on May 16 and some form of direct action on May 18. They say thy will “converge on the Seattle waterfront by land and sea, transforming Terminal 5 and Harbor Island into a festival of resistance that will nonviolently block Shell’s preparations for Arctic drilling.” Stay tuned, this could get interesting.
By the time that comes about the view from my street will no longer contain the rough beast which will have already “slouched toward Bethlehem.” I am simply a sailor and want no more from the sea than to enrich my spirit by feeling it’s motion and borrowing a mere cupful of it’s kinetic energy. For now the scale of this giant machine that came to visit my harbor does nothing more than disturb my dreams. I hope that is the limit of it’s power but fear that Royal Dutch Shell has enough money to buy more than enough trouble for an ecosystem which is better left alone.