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A Port pledge? Shell’s Arctic fleet out in 2 years, no more lightning leases

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 08.56.29From an article by Joel Connelly published 10 March 2015 by

A Port pledge? Shell’s Arctic fleet out in 2 years, no more lightning leases

With a $5.8 billion investment, Shell is determined to return to Alaska’s Chukchi Sea this summer.

The Seattle Port Commission is seeking a passage to calmer waters after facing protest and song over its lease of Terminal 5 to provide a staging area for Royal Dutch Shell’s Arctic oil drilling fleet.

A motion, set for vote at a future Commission meeting, would require that Shell’s fleet be gone within two years.  It also promises no more quickie deals removed from public scrutiny.  And the Commission would take over all future details of the controversial deal with Foss Maritime, which services Shell’s ships.

“We are not changing terms of the lease,” said Seattle Port Commissioner Tom Albro.  “We are, essentially, owning the lease as an executive action and determining what will happen there.”

Initial reaction from groups organizing protests — who packed Tuesday’s commission meeting with 200 anti-Shell activists — was  negative.

The motion, introduced late Tuesday, directs Port management to ensure that “tenant” — Shell and Foss Maritime — “vacates the premises at the end of the initial term of two years unless instructed otherwise by future public action of the Commission.”

Under a new resolution, it added, “the Commission will establish new requirements for leases of significant public interest including — at a minimum — a 30-day public comment period and the completion of all relevant environmental reviews in advance of Commission consideration.”

Commissioner Albro, who coauthored the pending motion, was a skeptic on the lease to begin with.  Now, he explained,  the Shell-Foss Maritime deal has become a “hot political issue.”

“What we do, I want to be overt, to make sure we have acted properly, and — when we made a decision — to make clear that we own it.

“I also do not want the Port of Seattle staff to become whipping posts for criticism, which I have seen signs of in the media.”

The Port of Seattle is facing fire on several fronts.

The lease with Foss Maritime, which services Shell’s ships, is being challenged in court by Earthjustice. The environmental legal group claims the Port violated the State Environmental Policy Act by not evaluating whether the servicing of Shell ships goes beyond the Port’s permit for Terminal 5.

Mayor Ed Murray has told the city’s planning department to review and investigate — quickly — whether hosting Shell’s Arctic oil drilling fleet is allowed under the current Shoreline Substantial Development Permit granted to Terminal 5.

The upcoming Shell lease was first disclosed by in early January, with almost no time for opposition to develop.

But environmental and progressive groups have refused to treat the signed lease as water under Terminal 5.

They mounted a loud, classic Seattle, made-for-adoring-Stranger-coverage protest at Tuesday’s meeting of the Commission.

The protest featured claims of “climate suicide,” a protest letter signed by environmental “bigfeet” (e.g. founder Bill McKibben), a Coalition for Port Accountability, an Episcopal priest, and appeals that the Port think about the future of the planet.

The Commission heard from usual suspects (a salty song from the Raging Grannies)and one Aji Piper.  Piper is a Seattle teenager whose ukulele and self-written songs have added a note of originality sorely needed in Seattle environmental protests.

“A young man testified at our Commission meeting via song he played on a ukulele. Definitely a candidate for Sea-Tac Airport’s music program,” tweeted Commissioner John Creighton. “He did a really good job,” Commissioner Bill Bryant said later.

Under their motion, port commissioners would reserve “all decisions” involving the Shell-Foss lease including expansion of the Shell port, changes of use to Terminal 5, and “election of remedies in the case of tenant default.”

Fuse Washington, the state’s largest progressive organization, sent a contingent of activists to the Tuesday meeting.  Its communications director, Collin Jergens, was not impressed by the Port Commission’s conciliatory motion and promises.

“The commissioners would sweep this issue under the rug and give themselves in two years the opportunity to extend the lease when the public is no longer paying attention,” Jergens said.

“Shell has one of the worst environmental records in the world:  Two years is plenty of time for Shell to irreparably damage fragile Arctic waters or Puget Sound.”

Under the Shell-Foss lease, the drilling ship Noble Discoverer could be one of the ships based at Terminal 5.  The drilling vessel broke loose from anchor in July of 2012 and nearly ran aground in Unalaska Harbor in Alaska.

A U.S. Coast Guard inspection of the vessel later resulted in eight felony convictions and $12.2 million in fines against Shell’s contractor.

A spill containment vessel, developed for Shell’s Arctic drilling, broke loose during a Puget Sound test, shot to the surface  and “breached like a whale” — in words of a federal inspector’s report — and, later, “crumpled like a beer can.”

With a $5.8 billion investment, however, Shell is determined to return to Alaska’s Chukchi Sea this summer. It is clearing up final issues with the U.S. Department of the Interior.  The Bering and Chukchi Seas are reporting unusually low winter ice packs.

Others, as well, are heading for the Chukchi Sea.  The Chukchi is a prime feeding ground for gray whales, which migrate from winter calving bays in Baja California to the high Arctic each spring.  The first visiting whale was spotted off Saratoga Passage last weekend.

The Seattle Port Commission has a lot of business to conduct as it combines maritime operations with the Port of Tacoma.  A key to those operations is upgrading Terminal 5 to attract a terminal operator and grow traffic of container ships.

The terminal is, in the Commission’s words, “a critical element of the Port’s efforts to handle larger container vessels and grow the Puget Sound gateway.

Could approval of Shell and Foss Maritime as tenant been better handled by the Seattle Port Commission?

When asked, Bryant, a possible candidate for governor,  paused for almost a minute.

“Let me not give you a flip answer,” he said.  “I would like to think over that issue.”



Here Are the Five Port Commissioners Who Failed to Stop Seattle from Becoming Shell’s Arctic Drilling Homeport

And Why You Should Be Giving Them Hell and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

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