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Kayactivists Prepare For Shell Icebreaker To Arrive In Portland

The Finnish icebreaker Fennica in November of 2013.

The Finnish icebreaker Fennica in November of 2013.

Todd Schwartz

Climate change activists in Portland are planning to take to the water in kayaks to engage in civil disobedience when an ice-breaking vessel working for the the Royal Dutch Shell oil company arrives at a local dry dock for repairs.

The ship, the MSV Fennica, is part of the fleet Shell plans to use to explore for oil and gas this summer in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea.  It gashed its hull in shallow waters off the coast of Northwest Alaska on July 3, and will be repaired at the Vigor Industrial shipyard in Portland.

“The Fennica is seen really as the last line of stopping arctic drilling,” said Mia Reback, a community organizer with 350 PDX and the Climate Action Coalition.  This is the last piece of the puzzle that Shell needs to legally start their test drilling.”

Reback said non-violent disobedience is being planned for both land and water, inspired by actions that have targeted Shell’s drilling rigs and vessels in Seattle and Bellingham.

The Fennica is critical to Shell’s oil spill response plan and is carrying a key piece of safety equipment called a capping stack.  Capping stacks are high-tech plugs, weighing up to 100 tons, that can be used to contain a well blow-out when other systems fail.

A capping stack eventually helped plug BP’s well during the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

A sign protesting Royal Dutch Shell's oil exploration in the Arctic.

A sign protesting Royal Dutch Shell's oil exploration in the Arctic.

Amelia Templeton/OPB

At a rally Saturday, Reback encouraged people to sign up to be “kayaktivists.” About 100 people gathered holding signs that read “Shell No” and “Shut The Gates of Shell.”

Senator Jeff Merkley attended the rally and briefly addressed the crowd. Merkley introduced a bill on July 16 that would prevent the government from renewing and issuing new leases for oil and gas in the Arctic.

Merkley said he is concerned about the consequences a spill could have in the pristine Arctic environment, but that he was also driven by climate change.

“If we are going to address global warming, we have got to leave 80 percent of the fossil fuel reserves that we have identified in the world in the ground,” he said. “We should not be opening up new areas to drilling like the arctic.”

U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley attends a rally opposing oil drilling in the Arctic.

U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley attends a rally opposing oil drilling in the Arctic.

Amelia Templeton/OPB

Shell did not respond to a request for a comment about the protest, but the company has said it plans to begin exploratory drilling in the arctic the third week in July and does not expect the repairs to cause a delay.

Vigor Industrial, which will be repairing the Fennica, also did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the company appears to be positioning itself to do more work with Shell and other energy companies.

Vigor recently purchased and installed the largest dry dock in North America, and acquired the Seattle shipbuilding company Kvichack.

“With Kvichack on board, we also see enormous opportunity to strengthen or role in supporting offshore oil and gas operations in the Arctic,” Frank Foti, Vigor’s CEO, wrote in a press release earlier this year. 

The merger allowed the company to “expand our offerings for building offshore support vessels, oil spill response vessels and systems, modules, rigs, terminals, and related structures,” according to Foti.

Vigor employs 2,500 people in Oregon, Washington, and Alaska, according to the company’s website.

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