What other’s say: ‘Kayaktavists’ and a whole lot of head-shaking

  • Sunday, October 11, 2015 8:41pm
  • Opinion

Earlier this summer, we watched as

so-called “kayaktavists” — each nestled in their bright, petroleum-plastic watercraft — attempted to create a barrier flotilla to stop a Royal Dutch Shell PLC drilling rig from leaving a Seattle port.

While their passion was noteworthy, so was the hypocrisy of their gathering. Each of those plastic boats was made possible by crude.

We couldn’t help but shake our heads.

For the first time since 2012, Shell was making a run at drilling exploratory wells in the Arctic.

With the vast retreat of summer ice, the world has for years looked at the Arctic as a region to be developed and exploited.

David Barber of the University of Manitoba stated in a 2012 Scientific American article that this fact is most particularly evidenced by Shell’s bid (as well as the huge amounts of money they put up to win drilling rights) to drill the first offshore oil well in the Chukchi Sea.

According to that article, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates the Arctic holds an oil and gas bonanza — and companies from Russia to the U.S. are lining up.

Flash-forward to late September when Shell announced it was quitting its $7 billion Arctic campaign after “drilling just one well with disappointing results,” according to a Wall Street Journal article.

In Seattle, TV news highlighted clips from protesters who celebrated the announcement and claimed their blockades may have played a role in the decision.

Again, we shook our heads. A group of kayakers in plastic kayaks is about as effective at stopping a large oil company as most Alaskans were at making it snow with “snow dances” last winter.

In conjunction with Shell’s announcement that the company was abandoning their Arctic drilling efforts for the foreseeable future, this summer’s drilling season also saw a tinge of nasty weather.

According to reports from Alaska media outlets and weather experts who track wind speeds, weather in the Beaufort, Chukchi and Bering seas is growing more and more dangerous each year.

Due to the lack of sea ice, waves are increasing and winds worsening. In late August, the community of Barrow saw large amounts of flooding and waves pummel barriers. At that time, Shell was forced to pause drilling efforts; even the company’s support ice breaker made a retreat to calmer waters.

While that wasn’t terribly out of the ordinary for September when ice is at a minimum, it could be a warning siren for the future as ice departs earlier in the season and forms later each year under the current climate change model.

So while the international community may still be looking at the Arctic as one big opportunity — shipping, oil and gas extraction and even tourism (ever heard of a icebreaker cruise ship?) — the dwindling sea ice may actually interfere with that effort.

The reduction in sea ice makes the Arctic Ocean more hazardous, according to Barber’s report. Shell’s bid to drill in 2012 had to be halted due to the dangers of drifting ice, for instance.

We’re certain Shell will return to the Arctic if oil prices ever drift closer to $100 per barrel. Similarly, we speculate the cost of doing business in the far north will only become more and more expensive if weather patterns in that region follow predictions.

Two big questions remain: Will the Arctic become too cost prohibitive for new exploration and industry? Maybe.

Will those “kayaktavists” see the light and turn to buying vessels that are at least made of recycled plastic, if not made of wood? Perhaps only if true disciples blockade the boat launch and only allow non-petroleum based kayaks through.

Or, maybe they just need a good snow dance.

— Juneau Empire

Oct. 9

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