Environmental activists in kayaks paddled into the middle of Seattle's Elliott Bay on Thursday afternoon to meet -- or, as they say, "un-welcome" -- a huge Shell oil rig.
The arrival of the Polar Pioneer could raise the stakes in the battle over Shell's oil exploration plans in the remote Arctic Ocean.
Seattle City Council member Mike O'Brien said this is a key moment in the fight against drilling in the Arctic.
"If they had other alternatives that were good alternatives, I imagine they would be there, but they're not," he said of Shell Oil. "Yes, I think there is a chance that when Seattle draws the line and says, 'You are not going to use our port,' this may be the straw that breaks the camel's back. This may be the end of Arctic drilling. This fight that's happening in Seattle could be the end of it."
Some people welcomed the rig and the promise of discovering more oil.
"I think we need to drill all the oil we can get," said Bob Street of Burien, who watched as the rig was pulled in by a fleet of Foss Maritime tugs. "Mainly I like the fact that gas prices are down now. We're avid boaters, and it was getting so bad, couldn't hardly afford to take the boat out."
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said last week that the Port of Seattle could face daily fines because it lacks the proper permit to lease dock space for an oil rig.
The Associated Press reports those fines would amount to no more than $500 a day.
At a contentious meeting Tuesday, port commissioners decided to tell Shell and Foss, the contractor for the operation, that moving the Arctic drilling fleet to Terminal 5 would be illegal.
Foss CEO Paul Stevens rejected that. "We're sticking to our plans,” he said.
Foss has appealed the city's ruling that land-use rules don't allow oil rigs to stay in a port terminal intended for cargo ships.
In a statement, Shell said it respects the rights of individuals to express their point of view and hopes the protesters will do so with safety as their number-one priority.
Shell's last attempt to drill in the Arctic Ocean in 2012 was marred by safety problems, including an oil rig that was being towed to Seattle running aground during a winter storm in the Gulf of Alaska.
Produced for the Web by Gil Aegerter.