Greenpeace protestors dangling from a bridge on Thursday in Portland, Oregon, halted an icebreaker that Royal Dutch Shell needs in northern Alaska before it can start drilling into the region’s oil zone.
The 13 Greenpeace protestors, who rappelled down from the bridge over the Willamette River early on Wednesday, are hoping to shorten Shell’s Arctic drilling season by stopping the Fennica icebreaker, which is carrying emergency equipment that would cap any blown-out well.
Shell needs to have the Fennica in Alaska before it can start drilling into the oil zone in the Chukchi, the Interior Department said last week. Shell would like to have the Fennica in Alaska as soon as possible as drilling season ends in October, when sea ice encroaches.
The Fennica stalled once it neared the St. John’s bridge on the Willamette, which leads to the Pacific Ocean. Protestors lowered themselves to prevent the ship from passing under the span.
The U.S. Coast Guard issued warnings to the protestors, saying they are unwelcome, trespassing and violating the safety zone. Portland Police closed the bridge to all traffic.
“Our primary concern is for the safety of the individuals on the water,” Coast Guard petty officer George Degener said. “We want them to understand we want them to exercise those First Amendment rights but we want them to be safe.”
Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said the company respects the rights of individuals to protest. “We just ask that they do so safely and within the boundaries of the law,” he said.
A small group of kayakers as well as a paddle boarders have grouped on the river. Protestors dangling from ropes with large red and yellow banners, chanted “Shell No” as Coast Guard boats circled the area, according to a live stream of the event by local broadcaster KPTV.
Shell’s Fennica icebreaker tried to make a pass under the bridge Thursday morning but was turned around by the protestors.
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