Prop repair brings Greenpeace ship to port
Heidi Zemach | For The LOG
Greenpeace ship Esperanza sits high and dry at Seward Ship’s Drydock on Monday. The ship is in port for repairs to her propellor, before sailing to the Chuckchi Sea as part of the group’s Save the Arctic campaign.
Greenpeace’s 236-foot four-story ice-class ship the Esperanza arrived at Seward Ship’s Drydock Monday for repairs to its propeller. It will stay for about a week before setting out for the Chuckchi Sea. The former Russian firefighting vessel, massive to observe sitting out on dry land with its painted Greenpeace rainbow and whale emblem on its bow, is headed to the Arctic as part of that environmental group’s Save the Arctic campaign against Shell Oil Company drilling, and what it feels will eventually become the “industrialization of the Arctic ocean.”
Shell Oil plans to drill five test wells off the northern coast of Alaska beginning in July provided it gets its final set of federal permits. The final permits are contingent on Shell convincing regulators that its emergency capping and containment system will stop the flow of oil from a subsea well in the event of a blowout. In the coming weeks it will undergo a “stump test” of the system’s basic functions, followed by a practice deployment in Pacific Northwest waters. Oil industry experts view the Arctic as the last great domestic oil prospect. One that could, over time, bring the country a large step closer to limiting United States’ dependence on foreign oil.
Greenpeace plans to take the Esperanza to the sites of the proposed test drilling along with a crew of about 24 international Greenpeace conservationists, a handful of ocean scientists and other experts. They will monitor the area and gather baseline data to document the potential impacts that an oil spill might have in the Arctic, and observe what Shell is doing there. They hope to broadcast their findings as the expected Arctic oil rush begins to unfold over the next couple months. They are hoping to public sympathy to their cause: preventing all oil drilling in the Arctic. Mainly, they do not think that a major oil spill like the one that occurred in Gulf of New Mexico in 2010 can be prevented or adequately responded to under Arctic-ice conditions.
The Esperanza has two manned research submarines on board provided by the La Jolla-based Waitt Institute. They will be used for methodical mapping via high-definition video of the virtually unknown undersea terrain of the Chukchi Sea, one of the most remote oceans on Earth, and its marine life.
“We’re going to be diving down into places where no man or woman has ever been before,” said Jackie Dragon, from San Francisco, the lead campaigner for Greenpeace’s Arctic tour. She is an ocean activist with considerable experience affecting policy changes, but is not a scientist by training. Dragon said she had just completed submarine operation training in the shallow Seattle harbor floor, and was “very excited” to see what the floor of the Arctic looks like.
The Greenpeace crew will also run an unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, to shoot aerial photographs of the drilling operations in an effort to become “the eyes of the world,” as she calls it, on Shell’s operations. The ship is also equipped with audio hydrophones which will be the ears.
Neither she, nor the ship’s media officer Travis Nichols, knew what type of salmon “reds” were, when informed that the crew could try to snag some at the mouth of the Resurrection River while they were awaiting the ship’s repairs in Seward. But the sunny Monday of their arrival, they were in awe of the snow-capped mountains, glimmering Resurrection Bay and looking forward to trying wild Alaska salmon in Seward’s restaurants.
The campaign’s lead scientists on board the ship include former University of Alaska marine conservation professor Rick Steiner, and John Hoscevar.
Steiner is best known in Alaska for his leadership in response to the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. According to his Greenpeace biography, he helped established the Regional Citizens Advisory Councils, the Prince William Sound Science Center, and helped bring about the billion dollar legal settlement between Exxon and the government, with which much of the coastline is now protected.
Hoscevar, a marine biologist and an accomplished campaigner, explorer and marine scientist, helped Greenpeace win what it considers several major victories for marine conservation since becoming the director of Greenpeace’s oceans campaign in 2004. He directed a campaign that secured the first cap on factory fishing for menhanden in the Chesapeake Bay, then led a successful campaign to persuade the Bush administration to scrap its plans to eliminate important fisheries protections. During the past three years, despite organized opposition from the fishing industry, Hoscevar’s team won successively lower catch levels for the pollock fishery.
He led an expedition to the Bering Sea five years ago that used submarines to conduct the first manned exploration of the world’s largest underwater canyon. The team discovered a new species of sponge, and documented corals and sponges not previously known to live in the Bering Sea.
In 2010 following the BP Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Hoscevar put together the scientific program for a three month-long research expedition to assess the scope and impacts of the disaster.
Shell has spent $4 billion buying drilling rights in the region, beginning in 2005, and several more years trying to overcome regulatory hurdles. The Obama administration signed off on Shell’s broad drilling blueprints for the region, after Shell officials backed the administrations’ efforts to advocate for a stronger response to global climate change. By having Shell obtain a court review its drilling plans early on, the company effectively pre-empted the possibility of opponents trying to halt the drilling by filing a last-minute lawsuit and obtaining a court injunction.
The Environmental Protection Agency has issued clean air permits for the flotilla of vessels that will be involved in Shell’s operations. Some of the converted crabbing ships conducting scientific tests in the region for Shell over the past years, have moored in the Seward boat harbor.
Heidi Zemach | For The LOG
Greenpeace lead campaigner Jackie Dragon, and public affairs specialist Travis Nichols, stand on the deck of the Esperanza Monday.
A federal judge, Sharon Gleason, of Anchorage has ordered Greenpeace, including its flagship Esperanza and submarines, to stay 500 meters away from Shell Oil’s drilling and support vessels through the close of the open-water drilling season (Oct. 31). Shell sought the injunction after Greenpeace New Zealand activists, including “Xena” actress Lucy Lawless, were arrested after illegally boarding the Shell drill ship Noble Discoverer in February before it left for the U.S. West Coast for cold-weather modifications.
Federal offshore drilling inspectors also announced last week that they will be stationed on rigs that Shell plans to use in drilling around-the-clock. Stationing these inspectors on the Kulluk and Discoverer rigs full-time will ensure a close watch on Shell’s proposed oil exploration, should it win final government approval, said James Watson, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement Director.
Asked whether Greenpeace organizers didn’t feel they were a little late in trying to stop an operation that has the President’s blessing, and is about to occur, Dragon strongly emphasized, “It’s not a done deal until we stop them,” she said.