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Shell: We have ‘backup plans’ if blocked from Port of Seattle

Article by Joel Connelly published 6 May 2015 by

Shell: We have ‘backup plans’ if blocked from Port of Seattle

Royal Dutch Shell has “backup plans” if it is blocked from using the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5 as home port for its Arctic drilling fleet, a senior company executive told reporters at a conference in Houston.

“It’s not my preferred approach — we have backup plans. I don’t think this will delay the program,” said Ann Pickard, the Shell vice president who oversees the company’s plans to drill this summer in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea.

“It’s unfortunate. There are other ports that would like us to be there and they continue to be supportive,” she added.

Pickard was reacting to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s announcement on Monday that the Port of Seattle will need to obtain a new permit in order to host the Shell exploration ships.  Murray said projected uses of Terminal 5 go beyond its status as a “cargo terminal.”

The Port of Seattle signed a lease in January with Foss Maritime, a century-old Seattle firm that supplies and repairs the Shell fleet.

In 2012, one of the firm’s tugs — the Lauren Foss — kept the 500-foot-long drilling ship the Noble Discoverer from running aground in Unalaska Bay near Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands.

Foss is continuing to prepare the port for Shell’s ships.

One drilling ship, the Transocean Polar Pioneer, arrived in Port Angeles last month.  It was greeted by a waterborne protest flotilla of Greenpeace demonstrators.

The Noble Discoverer is also on its way.  The U.S. Coast Guard put a “detention fix” on the vessel in Honolulu, holding up its departure until a device that separates oil from water in the ship’s bilges could be repaired.

Vice News first reported the repairs.

The Noble Discoverer was struck by gremlins when Shell tried to drill in 2012.  The near-grounding in Unalaska Bay came first.  The Shell-contracted rig had to abandon drilling work due to ice floes in the Chukchi Sea.

A U.S. Coast Guard inspection, later that year, found numerous record-keeping and safety violations.   The vessel’s owner, the Noble Corp., ended up pleading guilty to eight felonies and paying $12.2 million in fines.

Shell is determined to head back to the Arctic late this summer.  The oil giant has invested more than $5 billion in leases and equipment.  It is cutting back other overseas exploration, but intends to drill six test wells in the Chukchi Sea.

The Shell home port has caused controversy almost from the moment in January that Seattle port commissioners approved the deal, with minimum opportunity for public comment.  Environmental groups warn of oil spills in remote Arctic waters, and say fossil fuel development spurs climate change.

Shell still likes the Seattle site, despite the protests.

“The best place we figured out was Terminal 5 and we would like to see that come through,” said Pickard.  “If that doesn’t work, there are other alternatives but that is the ideal location, and it will provide a lot of jobs and income for Seattle.  I think it is the right way to go.”

Pickard was attending the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston.  The executive’s remarks were first reported in the Houston Chronicle and Fuel Fix.

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