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caption: Shell Oil's Kulluk drill rig, hard aground off Alaska's Sitkalidak Island in January 2013
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1 of 2 Shell Oil's Kulluk drill rig, hard aground off Alaska's Sitkalidak Island in January 2013
U.S. Coast Guard/Travis Marsh

Shell Arctic Drilling Fleet OK'd To Use 'Green' West Seattle Port

The Seattle Port Commission decided on Tuesday to let Shell Oil's Arctic drilling fleet use West Seattle as its home port.

Shell's drill rigs and barges would overwinter at the Port of Seattle's Terminal 5 in West Seattle while the terminal is being renovated.

At a commission meeting on Tuesday, environmentalists asked the five-member port commission to block the proposal.

The Port of Seattle claims to be "the Green Gateway for trade," and the three commissioners who supported the proposal took pains to express their commitment to the environment.

"I don’t like drilling in the Arctic," Commissioner Stephanie Bowman said. "I want to be really clear about that. This is not where I want this port to go."

"I am a committed conservationist," Commissioner Bill Bryant said. "It is on my bucket list to make sure that when I die, Puget Sound is healthier than when I was born."

Commissioner John Creighton: "I have not shied away from ruffling the feathers of local businesses when I felt that either the port or our tenants needed to go above and beyond current environmental standards to achieve a tangible environmental good.”

Then the three gave the go-ahead for the port to help Shell drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean.

"Rejecting this lease is not going to affect Arctic exploration," Bryant said. "Rejecting this lease is not going to protect our environment, but it will cost us over 200 jobs."

Bryant said rejecting the lease would be "symbolism at the expense of the middle class."

Bowman said it was the toughest decision the commission has had to make.

Though there was no formal vote, commissioners Tom Albro and Courtney Gregoire were outnumbered in their call for more public input on the lease.

"I fear that we have made investments for projects like the Shilshole Bay Marina bathroom upgrade that engaged the public in more in-depth conversation about how we will construct those than we have been able to do here," Gregoire said.

Port staff now have the go-ahead to negotiate a lease with Shell's potential contractor, Foss Maritime of Seattle.

The deal is expected to bring the port up to $28 million.

"This revenue we would be getting from this lease will really help us address many of the local environmental challenges we're faced with as a port," Creighton said.

It would not be the Seattle maritime sector's first involvement in Arctic drilling.

Shell's Arctic drill rigs, the Noble Discoverer and the ill-fated Kulluk, were refurbished at Seattle's Vigor Industrial shipyard, just across the Duwamish Waterway from Terminal 5, before heading to the Arctic.

Vigor Industrial worker William Shelby of Bremerton fell to his death while retrofitting the Kulluk's tall mast in February 2012. The Kulluk ran aground off Alaska's Kodiak Island in December 2012 while being towed back to Puget Sound.

The damaged Kulluk wound up being scrapped in China, according to The New York Times.

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