Royal Dutch Shell, the world’s second largest company, wants to find oil under the seabed off the coast of Alaska. After a disastrous attempt at Arctic drilling in 2012, the company has returned this summer to once again try to drill exploratory wells. But just like before, they’ve hit a major snag.
Shell’s MSV Fennica icebreaker vessel isn’t pointed north. Instead it’s headed to Portland’s shipyard for repairs to a 39 inch gash in its hull. Most observers expect it to arrive within the week. The ship was on its way to support Shell’s drilling fleet as the company commences putting in two exploratory wells 70 miles off the coast of Alaska. The Chukchi Sea’s icy waters make it far too dangerous to drill without icebreaker ships in support.
When Shell comes to town things can get messy in a hurry.
Earlier this summer, Seattle was temporarily home to Shell’s major drilling rig, the Polar Pioneer, and its presence sparked massive protests. Coming by land and sea, thousands of demonstrators made national headlines as they stood (and floated) in opposition to Shell’s attempts to drill in the remote and highly sensitive Alaskan waters. Feelings ran hot enough they resulted in a backlash against the local company working on Shell’s rig, as well as the Port of Seattle for cloaking the deal in secrecy. Both Mayor Ed Murray and County Executive Dow Constantine even revoked minor permits for the rig, substantively ineffectual but symbolically important gestures.
Now Oregon’s largest city is expected to be the new staging ground for Shell’s latest presence in the Northwest. And just as in Seattle, a flotilla of “kayaktivists” are preparing for a confrontation, hoping to prevent the ship from returning to Alaska where it would enable further oil exploration. At a rally last Saturday, protestors in Portland promised to “shut the gates of Shell”. The event even featured a brief speech from Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley who recently introduced a bill that would ban Arctic oil drilling completely.
Shell’s icebreaker may be a new arrival, but the oil giant and Oregon are well acquainted.
Sightline’s review of publicly-available campaign finance records shows that since 2009, Shell has given $598,700.58 to state level candidates for office in Oregon. (It is a starkly different strategy than the one they deploy in Washington, where the company routes nearly all its political funds through lobbyists.)
In Oregon, the top recipients of Shell’s political largesse are:
$11,280.70: Julie Parrish, a Republican currently representing District 37, (Tualatin/West Linn).
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$13,438.85: Jason Atkinson, a Republican who was formerly a representative from District 57 (Jackson and Josephine Counties) and state senator from District 25 who retired from politics in 2013.
$3,123.30: Chris Dudley, a 2010 Republican gubernatorial nominee and 16-year NBA veteran.
While these are the top candidates receiving money from the corporate Shell Oil office, there is a strange twist in the numbers. Republican Greg Smith from eastern Oregon receives thousands from a local Shell gas station in his district, almost all of which are labeled “personal expenditures for reimbursement” a likely indication that he owns the Shell franchise and uses it to fund his campaign.
Once in Portland, Shell’s icebreaker will be repaired by Vigor Industries, a firm that is itself no stranger to controversial energy projects. In early 2014, along with Gunderson Marine, Vigor signed a $75 million deal with Tidewater Barge Lines to build barges that would be used for the pending Morrow Pacific coal export terminal, although that project now appears dead. (And in a bizarre twist, Oregon’s public money is even tied up in that mess. As Sightline documented, the Oregon Investment Council, which is charged with taking care of the state’s pension funds, retirement accounts, disability and insurance for all public employees, put $100 million in an investment fund that bankrolled the Tidewater project.)
We’ll soon see how Oregon and Portland (aka “Little Beirut”) will react to Shell’s presence on the Columbia River, but it is hardly the industry’s first attempt at meddling in the state. Shell, along with a vast network of related fossil fuel companies, manipulates the state’s politics regularly. In fact, Sightline documented more than $2 million of fossil fuel spending in Oregon during the 2014 election cycle alone.
Editor’s note: On Monday, authors Eric de Place and Nick Abraham will appear on KBOO’s Locus Focus hour-long radio program where host Barbara Bernstein will talk with them about Shell’s Arctic drill plans and the company’s record in Oregon.