The rigs and support vessels headed to Seattle for moorage and maintenance do not fit under the current permit for Terminal 5, Ed Murray said Monday morning.
The Port of Seattle must apply for a new land-use permit in order to have its Terminal 5 serve as a hub for Shell’s offshore Arctic oil-drilling fleet, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said Monday.
“After talking to the Port about its plans at Terminal 5 and after reviewing the 20-year-old permit for the operation of the cargo terminal, (Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development) has found, and I concur, that the long-term moorage and maintenance of Arctic drilling equipment falls outside the current permit,” Murray said, drawing applause at a downtown Seattle fundraising breakfast for Climate Solutions, a “clean-energy economy” nonprofit.
“(The department) has determined that the Port’s proposed use is not a cargo terminal and therefore the Port must apply for a new permit,” the mayor added. “I expect the Port to obtain all required city permits before any moorage or work begins at Terminal 5 on Shell’s oil-drilling equipment.”
The Port’s plans to host Royal Dutch Shell rigs and support vessels in between trips to the Arctic, under a two-year, roughly $13 million lease, have drawn fierce criticism from environmental activists opposed to the drilling because of fears about Arctic oil spills and about additional fossil-fuel consumption contributing to climate change.
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Shell support vessels already are using the Port, and the company’s 400-foot-long Polar Pioneer drilling rig arrived in Port Angeles last month on its way to Seattle. Some activists on May 16 intend to create a flotilla of kayaks near the Port as a protest.
“While requiring a permit may not stop the Port’s plans, it does give the Port an opportunity to pause, an opportunity to rethink the issue,” Murray said. “This is an opportunity, I believe, for the Port and all of us to make a bold statement about how oil companies contribute to climate change, oil spills and other environmental disasters and reject this short-term lease.”
The mayor spoke about the Port’s permit in the context of calling for an “economy of the future.”
“To prevent the full force of climate change, we need not continue with the past,” he said. “It’s time to turn the page. Things like oil trains and coal trains and oil-drilling rigs are the past. It’s time to focus on the economy of the future. Clean energy, electric cars and transit, green homes and an environmentally progressive business community.”
A Port spokesman Monday declined to comment on Murray’s announcement, saying the Port had yet to look at the determination.
The Port’s lease for the Shell vessels is with Foss Maritime, a Seattle-based company working with the oil corporation. Paul Queary, a spokesman for Foss, said the company will move ahead with its operations at Terminal 5.
Shell’s vessels are only some of those that Foss hopes to service at Terminal 5.
“Our position is that this is a dispute between the city and the Port,” Queary said. “When we entered into this agreement with the Port we had a discussion about what we were going to be doing there and the Port assured us that it was acceptable under the current permit. We’re already doing work and at this point we’re going to go forward with that unless we hear differently from the Port.”
Foss has not said exactly when the Polar Pioneer and the Shell drilling ship Noble Discoverer are scheduled to reach Seattle. The Polar Pioneer is slated to leave Seattle for the Arctic in June.
“The mayor’s action … raises grave concerns about his stated commitment to Seattle’s thriving maritime community,” Queary added in a written statement. “By giving a small but vocal group the ability to jeopardize the commercial relationships between our local maritime businesses and the Port of Seattle, the mayor is casting serious doubt on the future of the city’s working waterfront.”
If the Port applies for a new permit, the process could take weeks or months, city Department of Planning and Development (DPD) officials have said. That could mean delays for Shell’s planned exploratory drilling.
If a Shell oil rig arrives at Terminal 5 before the Port obtains a new permit, the Port will be in violation and “subject to enforcement,” DPD spokesman Bryan Stevens said.
A spokesman for Shell said the company is reviewing the city’s findings.
Jordan Royer of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association torched Murray’s stance, saying the mayor is hurting Seattle’s business environment by playing favorites.
“This eats away at the trust people have that they’re going to get a fair shake,” Royer said. “The mayor is using the city’s regulatory authority in a political manner.”
Revenue from the lease with Foss finalized on Feb. 9 is supposed to help the Port renovate Terminal 5 to remain competitive with other ports, Royer added.
The Washington Maritime Federation also blasted the mayor’s position, warning that “our ports must have regulatory certainty at all levels of government to maintain global competitiveness, and protect the middle-class jobs at the core of the industry.”
But Emily Johnston, spokeswoman for 350 Seattle, an organization that is part of the anti-drilling “sHell No” coalition, called Murray’s announcement “fantastic news.”
“We hope the Port will do the right thing and use this as the rationale for rescinding the lease,” Johnston said.
Port Commissioner Courtney Gregoire, who opposes Shell using Terminal 5, said Monday she isn’t yet sure what bearing the city’s findings will have on the lease.
The Port’s other four commissioners didn’t immediately respond to emails requesting comment.
The entire deal could easily end up in court.
Murray issued a statement late Monday stressing his support for Port business and offering to help the Port find other uses for Terminal 5.
“While I disagree with the Port’s decision to service offshore oil-drilling rigs in Seattle, I stand behind our maritime industry,” he said.
King County Executive Dow Constantine backed up Murray, calling the Port hosting Shell vessels “the wrong direction for … King County, with our environmental ethic.”