Video: Shell Icebreaker Heads to Arctic Drilling Site After Maneuvering Through Portland Bridge Protesters

Shell Arctic Drilling Portland Protest
"It was tough to see the boat go through there, but every second counts," Razz Gormley, one of the protesters, told the Oregonian Thursday evening. "I consider this a victory." The Oregonian/YouTube

With the help of law enforcement, Shell's MSV Fennica icebreaker ship wove through a human blockade of Greenpeace protesters dangling from a Portland bridge Thursday night to begin its journey to an Arctic drilling site, The Oregonian reported.

The event was captured on video by The Oregonian.

The Greenpeace protesters first suspended themselves off of the St. Johns Bridge, about 100 feet above Portland's Willamette River, early Wednesday morning, with enough supplies to last for days, according to a Greenpeace spokesperson. This and previous protests in Seattle, where Shell docked its Arctic drilling rig, opposed Arctic drilling due to the high risk of oil spills in a harsh environment where cleanup would prove challenging. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, of the U.S. Department of the Interior, estimated earlier this year that drilling in the Arctic's Chukchi Sea could come with a 75 percent chance of a major spill in the next 77 years, based on a model of projected long-term development. A federally funded study from Nuka Research last year found that for 78 percent of the year, cleaning up a spill like that with skimmers and booms would be impossible because of ice cover.

Earlier in the day Thursday, the protesters had successfully blocked the MSV Fennica from leaving its dry dock when the ship attempted to move out of the port and the dangling protesters lowered themselves, blocking passage. A flotilla of protesters in kayaks also joined the aerial protesters. The ship turned back to its dry dock after two hours.

By Thursday evening, Portland police had closed the stretch of the river to traffic and the U.S. Coast Guard were using boat hooks to move "smaller craft" from the waterway, the Oregonian reported. A Special Emergency Response Team officer with the Portland police rappelled over the bridge to cut the lines that connected the dangling protesters; the Fire Department's rescue team then went over the bridge too, and encouraged some protesters to lower themselves down to boats. One protester refused to communicate, according to the Oregonian. Two firefighters disconnected his line and lowered him to a boat.

"It was tough to see the boat go through there, but every second counts," Razz Gormley, one of the protesters, told the Oregonian Thursday evening. "I consider this a victory."

The icebreaker was discovered to have a hole in its hull earlier this month and had been docked in Portland for repairs. The U.S. government last week granted Royal Dutch Shell PLC the last in a series of permits to begin exploratory oil drilling in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Arctic Alaska. But the permit was conditional: Shell needed its capping stack, to be used in the case of a well blowout, in place first. The capping stack is currently aboard the MSV Fennica. Shell is unable to begin drilling deep enough to hit oil until the MSV Fernnica returns with that key safety equipment.

"Without the required well control system in place, Shell will not be allowed to drill into oil-bearing zones," U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement Director Brian Salerno said in a statement last Wednesday.

The protesters spent a total of roughly 40 hours suspended from the bridge by the time Shell's MSV Fennica finally departed.