The city of Seattle said Monday that a new permit is needed for Shell Oil's Arctic drilling fleet to dock at Terminal 5, a stance that could bring more conflict with the port.
The city Department of Planning and Development released an interpretation that said seasonal moorage of a drilling rig and tugboats wasn’t consistent with the site's use as a cargo terminal under the Port of Seattle's lease with Foss Maritime.
The prospect of having to get another use permit could substantially delay or even prevent Shell from moving the huge Polar Pioneer rig to West Seattle.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said he hopes that the port will step back from the issue and will not resubmit its request.
“I believe that Seattle and our port should be investing in the economy of the future. We know that because of climate change that oil drilling and oil rigs are going to be the economy of the past,” Murray said, speaking with Marcie Sillman on KUOW’s The Record.
Josh Feit, editor of Publicola, said the issue represented “business as usual with the port and the city at each other’s throats.
“I think the mayor has delivered a political hot potato to the port so I think this really strains the relationship. And I think what ends up happening is that if they do reapply, that’s just going to anger the mayor too,” Feit said to Sillman.
Shell Oil’s Polar Pioneer arrived in Port Angeles April 17 aboard the carrier Blue Marlin in preparation for inspection before the trip to Seattle.
Another Shell rig, the Noble Discover, also is heading from Asia to Seattle.
Activists have protested the use of the Port of Seattle site for maintaining Shell Oil's Arctic drilling fleet. They say that drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic is inherently dangerous and that Seattle shouldn't support that project. They also worry about contamination of Puget Sound by maintenance activities.
In a statement Monday, the environmental group EarthJustice urged the port to "use this opportunity to reevaluate the Port’s priorities and to reject Shell’s use of Seattle’s waters as a homeport for its harmful Arctic drilling operations.”
Shell’s exploratory efforts in the Arctic have been hurt by several accidents.
At the end of 2012, one of its drill rigs ran aground on an island in the Gulf of Alaska while being towed to Seattle. The rig was sent to Singapore for repairs, and the company lost out on the 2013 drilling season.
That incident came less than four months after an accident in Anacortes, Wash., kept Shell from drilling for Arctic oil in 2012. In an underwater test off Samish Island, the company's oil-spill containment system was "crushed like a beer can," in the words of a federal inspector who witnessed the test.