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KUOW's environment beat brings you stories on the ongoing cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, alternative energy, the health of the Puget Sound, coal transportation and more. We're also partnered with several stations across the Northwest to bring you environmental news via EarthFix.

Shell Oil Rig Leaves Seattle As Kayakers Protest

Protesters in kayaks dogged Royal Dutch Shell’s huge oil drilling rig Polar Pioneer as it sailed out of Seattle’s Elliott Bay early Monday on a long voyage to the Arctic Ocean.

Dozens used kayaks to form lines in front of the 300-foot-tall rig as it left under heavy Coast Guard escort.

The Coast Guard said 13 protesters were detained. They included Seattle City Councilmember Mike O'Brien. The detainees and their boats were released at the Coast Guard station in south Seattle.

Royal Dutch Shell has federal permission to drill for a brief window of time -- the Arctic summer. Protesters hoped their efforts to block or slow down the departure from the Port of Seattle would cut that time even shorter.

The Polar Pioneer had been at the port since mid-May. Its arrival in environmentally minded Seattle sparked protests and government scrutiny at various levels. The city of Seattle said Shell didn’t have the proper permits to dock at Terminal 5 in West Seattle. State officials said the parking the rig there violated the state constitution.

Shell rejected those arguments and said the rig would stay until it was ready for the trip to the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s Arctic coast for exploratory drilling.

It might bring a second rig here as well and planned to keep one or both of the rigs in Seattle from November through next June as well.

Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said Monday that the rig is on its way to Alaska and the company remains "committed to operating in a safe, environmentally responsible manner."

O’Brien doesn’t believe it.

“We’ve already heard from the Coast Guard that they’re something like 2,000 miles away and can’t respond to a disaster up there," he told KUOW. "We’ve heard the government say there’s a high likelihood that there will be an oil spill."

And O’Brien said opponents of Arctic drilling would pursue legal action “to make it clear that that rig cannot be back in Seattle.”

But were the protesters on Monday more than a tiny speed bump on the way to Alaska?

“Maybe we caused them a few hours of delay this morning,” O’Brien said.

Year started with KUOW: 2009