In anticipation of renewed leases for oil exploration in the Arctic region and the recent conditional approval granted by the Department of the Interior, Shell moved the magnificent Polar Pioneer into position just offshore from Seattle this month. The recently refitted rig with a greater than 100 foot transit draft rises like a small city over the ocean and is a marvel of engineering, capable of withstanding some of the most intense conditions on the planet. Of course, not everyone was in the mood to celebrate this monumental achievement of man’s mastery of the seas. A gang of people who may or may not have been extras off the set of Hair decided to show up with kayaks and other paddle driven personal craft to protest Shell and block the path of the Polar Pioneer.

Hundreds of people in kayaks and small boats have staged a protest in the north-western US port city of Seattle against oil drilling in the Arctic by the Shell energy giant.

Paddle in Seattle was held by activists who said the firm’s drilling would damage the environment.

It comes after the first of Shell’s two massive oil rigs arrived at the port.

The firm wants to move them in the coming months to explore for oil off Alaska’s northern coast.

A solar-powered barge – The People’s Platform – joined the protesters, who chanted slogans and also sang songs.

“This weekend is another opportunity for the people to demand that their voices be heard,” Alli Harvey, Alaska representative for the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

Liberal allies in the press were referring to the paddling protesters as “kayactivists” as they swarmed around the rig like tadpoles next to a giant. So… good luck with that kayak attack strategy. The Polar Pioneer weighs in at more than 46,000 tons, and even though a few of the kayakers look like they’ve spent a bit too much time at the donut store, they’re in a significantly lower weight class for this fight. It would almost be amusing to see a few of them get run down by the massive platform, but sadly she doesn’t really have the speed for it. Her maximum rated movement is only six knots, and you’ll be lucky to do that much even on a perfectly calm day in ideal conditions at sea. Some of the rig operators I’ve spoken to said that on an average day you’re lucky to manage two to three knots. Seriously… if this confrontation were taking place on land you could outrun the Pioneer on a Hoveround.

Not all of the protesting was taking place on the water. There was also, er… this.

Protesters

The local coverage indicates that prior to the paddling activity there had been protesters boarding and climbing up on the Polar Pioneer. Speaking as someone who has been invited to tour similar ocean rigs, these people are idiots. And if they keep it up, some of them are going to wind up being seriously injured if not killed. A rig like this is no place to be screwing around. When the wind comes up and the surfaces are covered in salt water spray, the ladders and decks are slick… and they move. The professional bulls who work on these platforms are highly trained and have appropriate safety gear. If one of these hippies plunges one hundred feet or more into the ocean – or onto a lower steel deck – there will probably be a lawsuit, but they’ll have nobody to blame but themselves.

But enough of the bad news. It’s good to see the Pioneer heading north. It’s a magnificent beast designed to do a dangerous but necessary job. And just in case anyone from Shell is reading this, I’m available to be sent out for a tour to write about it. I’d love to get a first hand look at this baby.