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Local artist-activist confronts Shell Arctic drill rig off Vancouver Island

Swimmers also occupy the waters and Greenpeace vessel attempts to intercepts the Shell oil rig off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Audrey Siegl addresses the Shell oil rig platform. Greenpeace photo
Audrey Siegl sang and drummed in the direct path of the Shell oil rig platform. Submitted photo

Dressed in the traditional regalia of the Musqueam people, Vancouver First Nations artist-activist Audrey Siegl took to the waters in an inflatable boat to confront Shell’s massive Arctic drilling platform as it passed the west coast of Vancouver Island Wednesday morning.

Siegl approached the 300-foot-tall Polar Pioneer drill rig on its way to the Alaskan Arctic to drill for oil, drumming and singing from the inflatable that was launched from the Greenpeace ship MY Esperanza, while Greenpeace swimmers spread out in the water behind her to put their bodies in the way of the rig heading to the Arctic to drill for oil.

The Polar Pioneer sped on towards them, refusing to slow down as it approached the swimmers, according to a Greenpeace press release.

Siegl stood at the front of the boat with her drum and feather out in front of her, signaling the Polar Pioneer to stop. Speaking from the action, she said:

“Facing such a massive machine from a tiny boat is terrifying, but I believe that we all have a duty to do whatever we can to protect our sacred lands and waters.”

Siegl has been travelling with the Esperanza to connect Indigenous communities along the coast of British Columbia already opposing “extreme oil” from Canada’s tar sands.

“My message to Shell is that you may have money and massive machines, but the people united are more powerful,” added Siegl. “Together, we will stop Arctic drilling to defend our coast and our climate.”

The Esperanza also intercepted Shell’s Polar Pioneer drill rig as it headed to the Alaskan Arctic, where it plans to begin exploratory drilling early July.

Shell’s Arctic drilling plans have been the source of global controversy since they announced their intention to drill in Alaska’s icy waters more than three years ago. Since then, they have sunk more than $7 billion U.S. into this project, according to Greenpeace.

The plans to drill have already faced massive global opposition, including six Greenpeace activists who boarded and occupied the Polar Pioneer on April 6, and hundreds of ‘kayaktivists’ who gathered in Seattle to protest Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet during its arrival both in May and as the rig prepared to depart for the Arctic on Monday June 15.

Kayaktivists surround Shell oil rig in Seattle. Greenpeace photoKayaktivists surround Shell oil rig in Seattle. Greenpeace photo

Keith Stewart, head of Greenpeace Canada’s climate and energy campaign, stressed that the risk posed by Arctic drilling is simply too high. Research recently published in the science journal, Nature found that development of any oil and gas resources in the Arctic is incommensurate with efforts to limit average global warming to 2 °C.

In addition to the global climate impacts, Arctic drilling would also mean increased oil tanker traffic along B.C.’s already threatened coast, he said.

“Shell is ignoring the voices of seven million people around the world who have said yes to Arctic protection and no to Arctic drilling,” said Stewart from onboard the Esperanza. “We won’t sit idly by while Shell ignores the scientific research showing that we can’t afford to burn Arctic oil if we hope to avoid extreme levels of global warming.”

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