SHELL NO! A total of 24 people, including Seattle City Council member Mike O’Brien, were detained while protesting the June 15 departure of Shell’s Arctic drilling rig from the downtown waterfront. Kelly O

At around four in the morning on June 15, about a dozen Greenpeace kayakers paddled into Elliott Bay to stretch a floating line across the mouth of the West Duwamish Waterway. A text alert went out roughly 15 minutes later, giving the "go" sign for Seattle's homegrown "Shell No" coalition to bring their kayaks down to a West Seattle boat ramp and block the Arctic drilling rig leaving Terminal 5.

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But the activists' strategy to physically block the Polar Pioneer, a rig leased to Shell, was foiled not long after they deployed. Law enforcement quickly pulled in the floating line, removing the only technical blockade present. Only a giant banner reading, "SHELL NO," remained, and Harbor Patrol didn't waste much time in rolling that in, too. Between 30 and 50 kayaks and boats, as well as a Lummi canoe, were left on the water afterward, dancing around the bay as two Foss tugs, the Lindsey Foss and the Garth Foss, slowly pulled the 319-foot-tall Polar Pioneer into Puget Sound—the first leg of its journey to prospect for oil this summer in the Arctic.

Soon, US Coast Guard officers and police began scooping up protesters and their boats. Not long before the Coast Guard picked up Seattle City Council member Mike O'Brien from his kayak, he told The Stranger he'd be willing to face arrest. "Why is the law protecting Shell Oil but not the planet?" O'Brien asked.

Twenty-four people were hauled off the water as the rig trailed out of Elliott Bay. By 10:30 a.m., the Lummi canoe was one of the only vessels still trying to keep up with the rig and its tugs. Justin Finkbonner of the Lummi Nation skippered from the canoe's stern. He shouted out over the water about the gray whales that feed in the Arctic and North Pacific before migrating thousands of miles down to Baja, Mexico, in winter. He shouted about bowhead whales, too, and North Slope Inupiat communities' reliance on them. He connected the rig's departure to one of Elliott Bay's longer, complicated memories, the one in which shipping-lane construction cut off Native communities from their ancient fishing grounds and white settlers burned longhouses to the ground. "It breaks my heart to see [the rig] go," he said.

Kelly O

While the Coast Guard detained activists in Seattle, federal officials on the other side of the country were taking further action to secure Shell's prospecting rights in the Arctic's Chukchi Sea. On Monday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration approved a permit allowing Shell to harass an authorized amount of wildlife as a by-product of its activities in the Arctic. Drilling, ice breaking, and blasting air guns underwater to measure carbon deposits in the earth will almost certainly affect marine life up there, possibly including bowhead whales, beluga whales, gray whales, and several seal species. Shell has three drilling-related permits left to acquire.

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Now that the Polar Pioneer has left Elliott Bay, the rig and the rest of Shell's fleet will travel north, to Alaska, where the company will start working in the Chukchi Sea early next month. And back in the city, the 24 kayaktivists who were detained will decide whether to fight possible $500 fines for violating the Coast Guard's safety zone around the rig.

Bigger decisions loom in the long term. The rig is gone, but Seattle will continue to grapple with its new role as a de facto supporter of Shell's risky pursuits in an already-warming world. The company says it plans to use this city's port facilities again in the fall, when it returns from this summer's explorations. recommended