Port of Seattle commissioners asked that Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs delay their arrival at Seattle’s waterfront while the port appeals a city ruling that a new permit is needed. But Foss Maritime expects to move ahead with the planned arrival of the Polar Pioneer on Thursday.

Share story

Shell Oil says its offshore oil rigs will arrive shortly on Seattle’s waterfront to prepare for drilling in Alaska, despite a Port of Seattle resolution Tuesday asking it to delay while the Port challenges a city ruling aimed at keeping the rigs out.

“Rig movement will commence in the days to come,” said Shell spokesman Curtis Smith in an email.

Foss Maritime CEO Paul Stevens, whose company is slated to work on the Shell rigs at Terminal 5, was equally blunt: “We are going to proceed… These rigs and our operation will be in and out of here before there is any conclusion on the appeal process.” He said the first of the two drilling ships will arrive Thursday.

The Port of Seattle commission voted Tuesday to appeal the city’s interpretation that the Port needs a new permit to host Shell’s fleet. But the commission also asked Foss to inform Shell that use of the terminal should be delayed pending that legal review.

The Shell spokesman said the company has only a short window available to work in the Arctic, and believes the Foss lease and supporting contract are valid, so it intends “to utilize Terminal 5 under the terms originally agreed upon by the parties involved — including the Port of Seattle.”

The commission vote came after three hours of public comment from 74 speakers with stakes in the decision. Along with environmentalists and members of the community worried about the risks that oil drilling pose to the environment and carbon emissions, there were speakers who flew down from Alaska to explain the importance of drilling to their state, and members of Seattle’s maritime community.

Paul Fuhs, executive director of the North Slope Port Authority in Alaska, said before the meeting that rescinding the lease with Foss would be the equivalent of Alaskans telling Washington to “just shut down your Boeing plant and solve global warming with that.”

The Shell oil rig in Seattle


“That would be the level of what they are saying to us, to shut down oil drilling in Alaska,” he said.

The Port Commission voted 3-1, with Courtney Gregoire absent for health reasons, to urge that Shell delay its rigs’ arrival. The commission voted unanimously to appeal the ruling by Seattle’s planning department to a city hearing examiner.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, in a statement, ignored the planned appeal and lauded the Port’s request: “I now hope Shell will respect the wishes of the Port, the City and the community at large, and not bring an offshore drilling rig into Elliott Bay.”

A statement from Port co-chair Stephanie Bowman, meanwhile, didn’t mention asking Shell for a delay, and focused on the decision to appeal the city’s ruling.

The Port decision comes as Shell begins a final push to prepare its Arctic fleet for the brief summer drilling season in the Chukchi Sea.

Shell hopes to eventually drill up to six wells, including two this summer, but to get the job done it must adhere to a tight schedule. During the 2012 drilling season, that entailed a June departure from Seattle.

For Shell, Terminal 5 offers deep-water berths with easy access to Foss Maritime services, and would be used for tasks such as loading drilling muds.

The Shell fleet includes an oil-drilling rig, the Polar Pioneer, which will be towed north to the Chukchi Sea, and a second drilling ship, the Noble Discoverer, that operates under its own power.

On Tuesday, activists set up a roughly 20-foot metal tripod on Harbor Island in an effort to block the gates to Shell’s Seattle fuel-transfer station in protest of the oil company’s plans.

A group of “kayaktivists” met the Noble Discoverer as it arrived at the Port of Everett Tuesday evening. About a dozen activists in kayaks from the Shell No! Action Council paddled around the rig, which will load and unload supplies in Everett before heading to Seattle.

Some say that if Shell were unable to use Terminal 5 to service the fleet, the company could make do with an alternative site such as the Port of Everett.

“Regardless of what the city (of Seattle) does, they cannot stop Shell from drilling this season,” said Fuhs, of the North Slope Port Authority. “The real damage that’s being done is to the credibility of the Port.”