Seattle Residents Urge Port’s Commissioners to Reverse Shell Oil Lease Deal

On March 24, Seattle residents spoke out in objection of the Port of Seattle conducting lease negotiations in secret with Foss Maritime.

Jack Smith speaks to the Port of Seattle commissioners on March 24
Jack Smith compels the Port of Seattle commissioners on March 24 to reverse their lease agreement with Foss Maritime. (Joe Nicholson for Earthjustice)

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“Your child, my grandchild and the unborn grandchild of our grandchildren are going to live with what we do to this society.”

Those were Seattleite Jack Smith’s words to the Port of Seattle’s five commissioners on March 24, minutes before the port re-affirmed its two-year lease with Foss Maritime. In a motion that could be described as too little, too late, the port added a 30-day public comment period for future leases after getting pushback for signing the last lease without the public’s knowledge.

Smith was one of several dozen protestors who spoke out in objection of the port conducting lease negotiations in secret with Foss Maritime where it agreed to host and service Shell’s Arctic drilling exploration vessels, solidifying a $13 million two-year lease. Proponents of the lease argued that if Seattle hadn’t agreed to host Shell’s fleet, another city would have, and in turn, maritime jobs would follow Shell’s fleet out of Seattle too.  

Speaker after speaker rose to the podium and asked the port commissioners to rescind the lease and maintain the integrity of the port’s “Green Gateway” sustainable image. The port’s vision is to become “the cleanest, greenest, most energy efficient port in the nation,” which is more than a little ironic given this lease decision.

Smith made it clear to the commissioners that when he voted them into their posts he “never believed that responsibility included promoting fossil fuel profitability.”

Seattle resident Kenan Block agreed:

“We’re at a tipping point where the citizens are saying no … and you all have the power to do something extraordinary.”

A coalition represented by Earthjustice is asking that the court vacate the Port of Seattle’s lease based on violations of the State Environmental Policy Act and the Shoreline Management Act. 

In case you missed it: The Seattle City Council sent a formal letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell one week ago to tell the former-Seattleite that the city doesn’t approve of Shell drilling in the Arctic. The city’s Department of Planning and Development is currently investigating whether the Port of Seattle violated its shoreline permit issued by the City.

Meanwhile, Shell is on the move: The drilling vessels are expected to arrive in Seattle by early to mid-April. No precise time of arrival is available for the Noble Discoverer, but Polar Pioneer is scheduled to arrive at Port Angeles on April 12th, just around the corner from Puget Sound and Seattle. With the Department of Interior’s decision to resume Arctic drilling lease sales, we can expect that Shell will be preparing to deploy its fleet to the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea as early as this summer. However, these plans can now only formally be reviewed by the department, and it should not compound its lease sale misstep by rushing to approve Shell’s proposal.

For more details on the Port of Seattle case, read our Battle for Seattle blog or follow our litigation as Patti Goldman of Earthjustice represents Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, Sierra Club, Washington Environmental Council and Seattle Audubon Society.

From 2014–2016, Betsy was a bilingual press secretary on the Advocacy Communications team.

Established in 1987, Earthjustice's Northwest Regional Office has been at the forefront of many of the most significant legal decisions safeguarding the Pacific Northwest’s imperiled species, ancient forests, and waterways.