What happened when #ShellNo protestors went toe-to-toe with Big Oil in a daring standoff

It was only a stall, but it got the world's attention.

Drilling for oil in the Arctic? Ohhhh #ShellNo!

The Arctic's icy Chukchi Sea. Photo by NASA HQ PHOTO/Flickr.


At least that's what Greenpeace USA and its supporters say.

Shell oil company recently got its hands on limited permits for preliminary drilling in the Arctic's Chukchi Sea, just west of the northern tip of Alaska, and was all set to get operations underway this week (despite plenty of warning that a devastating oil spill is all but inevitable if drilling occurs).

Until 13 activists got in the way. Literally.

Here's what happened.

Earlier this week, Shell deployed a 380-foot-long icebreaker called the MSV Fennica to the Arctic.

The Fennica is crucial to Shell's drilling operations in the way, way, way north because it carries a special spill containment system called a capping stack that has to be on hand before any drilling can begin (though the capping stack is far from a reliable solution).

After wrapping up some repairs at a Portland, Oregon, shipyard (Shell recently crashed the ship into an iceberg and ripped an enormous hole in the hull, d'oh!), the Fennica was all set to hit the open water.

The St. John's Bridge in Portland is all that stood between the MSV Fennica and a clear path to the Arctic. Image from Google Maps.

And then Greenpeace happened. Go, Greenpeace.

To physically block the Fennica's passage out into open water, Greenpeace activists suspended themselves from the St. John's Bridge.

Stop, hammock time! Photo by carissabee/Instagram used with permission.

Loafing around in a hammock isn't usually a good way to get things done, but this might be the exception.

Protestors dangled colorful hammocks from the bridge, secured by heavy-duty climbing equipment. Activists in kayaks (kayaktivists!) also joined in the fight on the surface of the water below, forming a human blockade.

The kayaktivists! Photo by Backbone Campaign/Flickr.

The protestors arrived around 2 a.m. on Wednesday, prepared for the long haul. Most brought food, water, and entertainment to last them a number of days, with Portland residents contributing even more rations and supplies to the cause.


At one point on Thursday, Shell's icebreaker was forced to turn back and return to port.

A temporary but significant victory.

The protests ended on Thursday night, but the activists' message was heard loud and clear.

Some activists "hanging" out. Photo by opiopanaxx/Instagram used with permission.

Greenpeace had to know they couldn't keep the Fennica at bay forever.

But with Shell planning layoffs, watching its profits tank, and desperate to get started on its Arctic drilling project, the oil company couldn't afford any delays. Which is why Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace, told MSNBC, "Every second we stop Shell counts."

Thursday afternoon, a federal judge in Alaska ordered Greenpeace USA to pay a $2,500 fine every hour as long as protestors continued to impede the Fennica, with the fine set to increase every day. With hard-hitting fees heading their way and arrest threats looming, the Greenpeace activists were forced to pack it in.

The dramatic final moments of the protest. Photo by Twelvizm/Flickr.

But not before growing huge international awareness of the dangers of Arctic drilling.

Greenpeace says drilling in the Arctic could be catastrophic. And the experts agree.

The harsh conditions make it really difficult to access Arctic oil safely, or at all. Shell itself has poured more than $7 billion over the course of 10 years into trying to make this happen. Most of its competitors have given up for now.

Experts agree the risks are huge. One federal report recently estimated a 75% chance of at least one large oil spill over the life of Shell's 77-year drilling lease, which could absolutely devastate marine life in the Chukchi Sea and beyond.

A recent article in Time magazine also warned that drilling in the Arctic could release large amounts of methane and black carbon, two extremely potent greenhouse gasses. Black carbon is especially dangerous, as large buildups of the stuff collect solar energy at a rapid clip, warming the ice and water even faster.

The hammocks may have come down, but #ShellNo is still going strong.

This fight isn't over.


Greenpeace says the Obama administration has shown a willingness to change environmental policy based on public outcry, so they're encouraging people to continue amplifying the issues and voicing their displeasure.

Right now, the MSV Fennica is on a course for the Chukchi Sea. But after this incredible display of international concern, revoking Shell's drilling permits certainly isn't outside the realm of possibility.

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