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Arctic Oil-Drilling Plans Spur Protest in Washington State

Activists who oppose Royal Dutch Shell's plans to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean prepare their kayaks for a protest in Seattle's Elliott Bay, May 16, 2015.

Hundreds of activists opposed to drilling for oil in the Arctic took to the waters of a bay in the western U.S. state of Washington on Saturday.

Sailing in kayaks, canoes and other small boats, the activists spread out on the city of Seattle's Elliott Bay, protesting plans by Royal Dutch Shell to resume oil exploration in the Arctic and to keep two of its drilling rigs stored in Seattle's port.

The demonstrators held signs and banners that read "Climate Justice" and "No Arctic Drilling."

Royal Dutch Shell plans to explore for oil off the northern coast of the state of Alaska.

Eric Day, with the Swinomish Indian Tribe in Washington, was one of many Native Americans who brought their canoes to the protest. He said drilling in the Arctic would hurt people who live off the land.

"This is our livelihood," he said. "We need to protect it for the crabbers, for the fishermen. We need to protect it for our children."

Annie Leonard, executive director of the environmental group Greenpeace USA, said drilling in the Arctic is a bad idea for multiple reasons. She said the focus should be on renewable energy, not dirty fuels.

"Why would we invest in an energy source that scientists say is leading us to catastrophe?" she said.

A scuba diver from Washington state, Greg Huyler, observed the event and voiced opposition to it.

"It's a bunch of [nothing]," he said. "The problem is, all these kayaks are petroleum products, and they're going to gripe about drilling for oil. And 90 percent of them drove here in cars that use petroleum products."

Saturday's protest came two days after the arrival of a towering oil rig that is the centerpiece of Shell's Arctic drilling fleet. The Polar Pioneer rig, 122 meters long and 91 meters tall (400 feet by 300 feet), is the first of two oil-drilling rigs Royal Dutch Shell plans to use in the coming months as it explores for oil off Alaska's northern coast.

The Arctic holds about 30 percent of the world's undiscovered natural gas and 13 percent of its oil, according to Shell's website.