SEATTLE -- Port officials are standing behind their controversial decision to host Shell Oil's Arctic drilling fleet, despite protests, legal action and a city-led investigation.
The Port of Seattle signed a lease earlier this month that has caused a stir among some citizens and elected officials. At a public meeting Tuesday the port's commissioners got an earful when they opened the floor to testimony about their decision to lease Terminal 5 to Foss Maritime, which will then host Shell Oil's Arctic drilling fleet.
Hundreds of people packed the room at SeaTac Airport for the meeting, where testimony dragged on for more than three hours. At one point a group of women who call themselves "The Raging Grannies" provided testimony in musical form.
Most of the day's testimony was in opposition to the lease. Environmentalists said enabling Arctic drilling will contribute to climate change and continued dependence on fossil fuels. They also raised concerns about Shell’s track record in the Arctic. A little over two years ago a Shell drilling rig known as the Kulluk ran aground on a remote Alaskan island. A Coast Guard investigation highlighted safety violations and risky behavior leading up to the accident.
The Kulluk was bound for Seattle’s Vigor Shipyards. Vigor representative John Lockwood told the port commission that the lease has already generated more than $2 million in business for Vigor.
“Altogether more than 60 new family wage jobs have been created for this single project. As we used to say back east, that’s not chopped liver," Lockwood said. "We applaud your standing tall and working to keep the maritime industry viable in the Port of Seattle."
The lease for Shell's Arctic fleet is expected to generate up to $28 million for the port. But some of its critics suggested that the agreement could it could come at a political cost to the port commissioners who approved it. Port commissioners are elected officials and many who testified at today's meeting said the decision to lease to Shell will cost the commissioners in voter support when they stand for reelection. Three of the five commissioners (John Creighton, Bill Bryant and Stephanie Bowman) support the lease. Two (Tom Albro and Courtney Gregoire) oppose it.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and the city council are investigating the commissioners’ decision.
Environmental groups are suing on the basis that the facility is only permitted for use as a cargo facility but that is not how Shell will use it.
Despite the vocal opposition, Creighton said he is confident he and other commissioners made the right call in allowing Shell Oil to use Seattle as a home port.
"Despite what has been said today, I’m very proud of the Port of Seattle’s environmental record," Creighton said. He also acknowledged that the port needs to better involve the public in its decision-making process.