Shell's Polar Pioneer drill rig on its way to Seattle aboard the semisubmersible Blue Marlin.
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Shell's Polar Pioneer drill rig on its way to Seattle aboard the semisubmersible Blue Marlin.
Credit: Vincenzo Floramo / Greenpeace

Port Of Seattle Rejects Calls To Cancel Arctic Drill Rig Lease

After nearly two hours of public testimony Tuesday, Seattle port commissioners upheld their decision to let Arctic oil-drilling rigs dock at the Port of Seattle.

They did vote 5-0 to make it harder for Shell Oil to use the Port of Seattle's Terminal 5 beyond the two-year term of the lease the port approved in January.

Under the measure approved Tuesday, any changes or extensions to that lease would require a public process and a public vote by the Port of Seattle Commission.

Environmental activists have been protesting the port's agreement to let Shell keep two drill rigs, intended for use in the Arctic Ocean, in West Seattle.

Maritime-industry and labor groups at the commission hearing Tuesday said the lease agreement with Foss Maritime of Seattle is already bringing good-paying jobs to the city.

Emotions ran high, even among the commissioners.

"We all know the science. We know if we open up the Arctic, we are opening up a new frontier that we cannot shut, and that has irreversible consequences on our climate. I can't do that to my 2-year-old at home or my future child," said Port Commission co-president Courtney Gregoire, her voice breaking at the mention of her 2-year-old.

Gregoire then said four in 10 jobs in Washington depend on international trade.

"Once a commitment is made, we don’t reneg on our commitments," she said.

Four environmental groups have sued the port, which calls itself "the green gateway for trade," for welcoming the Arctic rigs without public process or environmental review.

The Seattle Department of Planning and Development is reviewing Foss Maritime's lease to house Shell's Arctic rigs to see if it violates the city's shoreline permit for Terminal 5.

Activists at the meeting predicted large protests when the Noble Discoverer and Polar Pioneer drill rigs arrive in Seattle next month. The rigs are currently making the slow sea journey from Asia, tailed by the Greenpeace ship Esperanza.

The U.S. Interior Department is expected to decide shortly whether to allow Shell to resume exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska's northwest coast.

On Monday, the Seattle City Council sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, formerly of Seattle, urging her to stop all Arctic drilling.