Plan to allow Shell Arctic oil drilling fleet to homeport in Seattle draws opposition

EnergyAssociated Press

A plan to allow Royal Dutch Shell PLC to use Seattle's waterfront as a homeport for its Arctic drilling fleet is drawing opposition from environmental groups that say it's not consistent with the region's environmental goals.

Several state and national groups, and local city leaders on Wednesday urged the Port of Seattle to halt lease negotiations that would allow Shell to use 50 acres of port property across from downtown Seattle.

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Shell could house about two dozen vessels, including exploration drill rigs, ice breakers, tugs and barges here in the winter when they're not exploring for oil off Alaska's coast.

Port commissioners this month approved moving forward with a short-term lease with Foss Maritime, whose clients include Shell. The port is renovating the terminal to handle bigger ships and was looking for interim uses that could bring revenue.

Port officials and Foss say the projects also would create good-paying jobs, as well as local and state tax dollars.

But environmentalists say there was little environmental review or time for public input, and they reject the idea of Seattle being tied to Arctic offshore oil exploration.

"We want the port to reconsider and follow the law. If they don't, we'll have to seriously consider going to court," said Patti Goldman, Northwest managing attorney for Earthjustice.

She and others said in a letter to port commissioners that Shell's Arctic drilling fleet has "an abysmal track record when it comes to water pollution and compliance with environmental laws".

Curtis Smith, a Shell spokesman in Alaska, said in an email Wednesday that the company doesn't comment on potential or pending commercial arrangements. Its focus remains on a potential future drilling program in the Chukchi Sea, he said.

"For that to materialize, we need to see progress on a number of fronts, including the necessary permits and complete confidence that we can execute a program safely and responsibly," he wrote.

In a statement, the Port of Seattle said it would review the groups' concerns.

"This opportunity has the potential to create hundreds of family-wage jobs and generate tens of millions of dollars in revenue for the region," the port said Wednesday.

The lease between Foss Maritime and the port has not been signed, and it's unclear yet when it would start, said Peter McGraw, a port spokesman.

"We're in negotiations with the port to lease part of Terminal 5 for a project that would bring hundreds of good maritime jobs to the waterfront," Paul Queary, a spokesman for Foss Maritime, said Wednesday.

He declined to comment on the specifics of the lease or the company's commercial agreements. He noted that many people attended the port hearing earlier in the month and testified.

Mike O'Brien, a Seattle city councilman who urged port commissioners to reconsider, said the region and port can create sustainable jobs.

"But we have to start by rejecting this false premise that somehow the future of Seattle's economy is going to be tied to drilling in the Arctic. That's not the city that I'm part of."