Shell icebreaker retreats after showdown with protesters

AP Photo/Don Ryan

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A Shell Oil icebreaker retreated Thursday after a showdown with environmental activists dangling from Portland's tallest bridge.

Protesters on St. Johns Bridge and kayakers on the Willamette River below have been blocking the icebreaker from heading to the Arctic for a drill operation.

The icebreaker Fennica arrived in Portland for repairs last week. The vessel was damaged earlier this month in the Aleutian Islands when it struck an underwater obstruction, tearing a gash in its hull.

It started its journey to the Arctic early Thursday before stalling in the face of 13 dangling activists linked by ropes. It then turned around and inched its way back to Vigor Industrial's dry dock, delighting those gathered on shore in the city known for environmentalism.

"I think it's inspirational," Portland resident Lisa Szot told The Oregonian. "It's a really beautiful protest."

The U.S. Coast Guard warned the danglers they were breaking the law, but took no action. Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener said the agency did not tell those aboard the icebreaker to turn around.

"I don't know what led the master and the pilot on board to come to that decision," he said.

The icebreaker is a key part of Shell's exploration and spill-response plan off Alaska's northwest coast. It protects Shell's fleet from ice and carries equipment that can stop gushing oil.

Environmentalists hope to delay the ship long enough for winter weather to prevent Shell from drilling until 2016. By that time, they hope the Obama administration has a change-of-heart on the issue.

"There is no Plan B, just as there is no Planet B; we have no intention of moving until President Obama rescinds the permit for Shell to drill in the Arctic," said Daphne Wysham of the Center for Sustainable Economy.

Shell did not immediately comment Thursday.

Portland police closed the bridge to traffic during the standoff. It was reopened shortly after the icebreaker reversed course.

The activists say they have water and food for the long haul. They also have their phones to stay in the social-media loop.

"The fennica is headed back to its dock where it belongs — not the arctic! #ShellNo," tweeted Dan Cannon, a Greenpeace activist dangling from the bridge.

—Steven Dubois, Associated Press

Shell, Greenpeace headed back to court Thursday

Shell and Greenpeace USA will go back to court Thursday to determine if Greenpeace protesters are violating a court injunction after a Wednesday teleconference hearing before Alaska U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason yielded little.

The 4 p.m. hearing on Shell’s emergency motion, which was filed earlier Wednesday, resulted from the actions of 13 Greenpeace activists who lowered themselves from a bridge over the Willamette River in Portland, Ore., in an attempt to block the Shell-leased ice handling vessel Fennica when it leaves a shipyard upriver to return to Alaska.

On May 8, Gleason issued an order prohibiting Greenpeace USA members from impeding vessels involved in Shell’s offshore Arctic drilling program as part of their protests.

In the Wednesday hearing, Shell attorneys requested Gleason hold Greenpeace in contempt of court for violating the May injunction. Shell is also requesting Gleason issue a cease and desist order against Greenpeace and levy a fine of $2,500 per hour, equal to the lease rate Shell is paying for the Fennica, while Greenpeace is violating the injunction.

Shell’s counsel said the Fennica might have been scheduled to embark today but remained docked at the request of the U.S. Coast Guard and would likely leave Thursday morning.

Gleason said she needed to know exactly when the ship was scheduled to leave the dock to determine if the activists were actually impeding its progress. If Shell can have the information it needs in a court filing by early morning, the hearing will be continued at 9 a.m. Alaska time. Otherwise, it will likely be pushed back to 4 p.m. Thursday.

The Fennica is a 380-foot ice-management vessel that was sent back to Portland for emergency repairs after it hit a shoal while leaving Dutch Harbor for the Chukchi Sea on July 3. The previously uncharted shoal caused a gash in the hull about three feet long and an inch wide.

The Fennica also carries the capping stack, which needs to be onsite while Shell drills to oil-bearing depths in case of a problem. For this reason, Shell can only drill partial wells without the Fennica.

Both of Shell’s drill rigs are now staged in the Chukchi at their respective sites in the Burger prospect.

Greenpeace attorneys requested a grace period if a ruling against the environmental group is issued in order to get word from Alaska to their offices in Boston and on to Portland before a fine is levied.

Gleason first suggested an hour after she issues a ruling, but then said she would be willing to reevaluate that if Greenpeace could suggest a reasonable timeframe.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

Shell seeks order enforcing injunction against Greenpeace USA

Shell has asked Alaska U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason to enforce a court order she issued May 8 prohibiting Greenpeace USA from efforts to impede Shell-leased vessels.

Shell filed a request Wednesday afternoon, asking for a teleconferenced hearing the same day after a group of 13 Greenpeace activists lowered themselves from a bridge over the Willamette River in Portland in an attempt to block the Shell-leased Fennica when it leaves the shipyard after repairs.

The injunction against Greenpeace USA includes the Fennica, an ice-management vessel undergoing emergency repairs in a Portland shipyard to fix a three-foot long gash in the hull sustained on an uncharted shoal while attempting to depart Dutch Harbor for the Chukchi Sea on July 3.

The Fennica also carries Shell’s capping stack, which is required to be on location when the company is drilling to oil-bearing depths. Shell can only drill “top holes” until the Fennica returns to the Chukchi.

“There’s only one vessel we’re here to block, and that is Shell’s icebreaker Fennica, which has equipment on it that they can’t do any drilling without,” Greenpeace activist Steve Nichols said, and was quoted in a filing made by Shell Wednesday. “The window for drilling in the Arctic is narrow. The longer it takes to get a ship there, the less time they will have to drill.”

Greenpeace has violated the federal court order several times already, including effort to block the semi-submersible drill vessel Polar Pioneer as it departed Puget Sound June 15.

Citing a cost to lease the Fennica of nearly $60,000 per day, Shell asked Gleason to impose a compliance fine of $2,500 per hour until Greenpeace USA removed its activists from the bridge. The company also asked the court to order Greenpeace to cease any further efforts to block the Fennica.

Earlier in the day, according to the filing, Shell emailed and then telephoned Greenpeace USA attorney Matt Pawa at his office and on his cell phone with a request that the environmental organization stand down.

According to the filing, Pawa did not respond to the email or to a voicemail message left on his office phone advising him that the motion was being filed.


11/12/2016 - 11:56am