Scuttling Port of Seattle leases to service Shell oil rigs won’t stop Arctic drilling, but it would send a damaging message to the maritime industry.
SOON, two huge oil rigs will be parked at the Port of Seattle, preparing for a summer sailing to the Alaskan Arctic and for exploratory drilling.
The Port’s decision in February to lease Terminal 5 to Foss Maritime, which will service the Royal Dutch Shell rigs, was appropriate because facilitating the maritime economy is what the Port does.
Environmental activists are arguing — loudly — that the Port should scuttle that lease as part of a proxy war over climate change. A coalition of groups have sued and on Friday learned their lawsuit will go forward.
And Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, with backing of the Seattle City Council, has ordered a belated review of city-issued permits for the Terminal 5 lease, apparently with similar intentions.
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Climate change is a real threat. But blocking those rigs at Terminal 5 wouldn’t stop Arctic drilling nor alter the course of climate change. Instead, undoing the Port lease would be a symbolic victory at the expense of the region’s vital maritime economy.
If the lease were killed, Shell would likely divert operations to another Pacific port. Prince Rupert in British Columbia or Dutch Harbor in Alaska could step in.
Environmentalists suggest that diverting those operations elsewhere could somehow change the fundamental economics of Arctic drilling. That ignores the $5 billion already invested in Arctic drilling efforts by Shell, as well as new regulations proposed by the Obama administration last month that would allow oil exploration in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, with stringent environmental protections.
While the focus has been on unsightly rigs to be parked on the waterfront, Seattle’s attention should also be on the estimated 500 to 700 jobs that will be supported by the lease.
“The City of Seattle needs to decide if it wants to be a global player or to chase away family-wage jobs,” said Paul Stevens, chief executive of Foss Maritime, which holds the Terminal 5 lease to service the Shell rigs.
The lease will also help the Port of Seattle in the pitched battle for future maritime traffic. The two-year lease will generate about $13 million, which could expedite the Port’s plan to renovate Terminal 5 to accommodate behemoth next-generation cargo ships.
In other words, the Shell rigs are short-term parkers.
Efforts to block this new business — including the lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court by a coalition of environmental groups — focus on the Port’s internal processes, which authorized staff to negotiate the comparably small contract.
Those are micro-aggressions against a mega-problem.
The real fight should be over the oil leases themselves, which are issued by the U.S. Interior Department, led by Seattleite Sally Jewell, and for a new national energy policy that better addresses humankind’s role in changing our planet.
Seattle has been the gateway to Alaska since the city was founded. That vital economic link should not be broken for the symbolism of diverting a few oil rigs to another port.