Groups Appeal Seattle Judge’s Decision Allowing Shell To Use the City As Arctic Drilling Homeport

Seattle-area environmental groups demand environmental review


Patti Goldman, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 1032


Chris Wilke, Puget Soundkeeper, (206) 297-7002


Mary Bond, Seattle Audubon Society, (206) 523-8243, ext. 38

Today, a group of Seattle-area environmental groups and the Sierra Club appealed a King County Superior Court Judge’s July ruling which said the Port of Seattle did not need to conduct an environmental review before allowing the Terminal 5 at the Port of Seattle to be used as a home port by Shell Oil’s Arctic drilling fleet. Additionally, the appeal challenges the Superior Court’s decision that turning Terminal 5 into a homeport for Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs was the same use as the previous container shipping terminal.

Earthjustice filed the appeal on behalf of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, Washington Environmental Council, the Sierra Club and Seattle Audubon to the Washington State Court of Appeals, Division I. 

“The Port of Seattle is supposed to be accountable to the public, but it has continually shut the public out of this process. The Port has circumvented the permitting and environmental review processes it is supposed to follow,” said Earthjustice Staff Attorney Patti Goldman.

“Our waterways are not for sale to the highest bidder. If the Shell drilling rig and its support vessels are allowed to return to Seattle without environmental review, the costs incurred by the public include a significant loss of public use of the waterway, an increased risk to Elliott Bay and the Duwamish River from spills and in-water repairs, as well as a loss of public accountability and trust,” said Chris Wilke, Executive Director and Puget Soundkeeper of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. 

“We are compelled to resort to this appeal because of our ongoing concern for the health of Puget Sound. The lack of public process and environmental review by the Port creates concern that grave harm will come to the birds, whales, and other marine life in our waters from these oil industry vessels. We have no choice but to continue speaking for the wildlife that cannot speak for itself,” said Brian Windrope, Executive Director of Seattle Audubon. 

Read the legal document.


Earthjustice filed the original challenge in King County Superior Court on behalf of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, The Sierra Club, Washington Environmental Council, and Seattle Audubon Society in March. The coalition asked the court to vacate the Port of Seattle’s lease with Foss Maritime to house Shell Oil’s Arctic drilling fleet because the Port violated the State Environmental Policy Act by failing to conduct any environmental review. 

The lawsuit charges that the Port violated environmental laws by converting Terminal 5 from a container terminal into a Shell homeport; the Port needed to conduct a public review of the environmental and community impacts of making this change.  

Citing Shell Oil’s record of environmental impacts from leaking oil, potential discharges from repairing Arctic-damaged vessels as well as a lack of public process, the groups asked the Port to block the lease via a letter dated January 28, 2015. The letter urged the Port to find a new tenant that creates high-quality, sustainable jobs that reflect the community’s values, further specifying the need for a full vetting and public process. The lawsuit seeks to safeguard those core values and the need to push the Port to be a leader in sustainability. 

A separate legal proceeding concerning the Terminal 5 lease is ongoing. The City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development, which issues and enforces shoreline permits, has determined that the Port needs a new permit before homeporting Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet at Terminal 5. The current permit authorizes use of Terminal 5 as a cargo terminal, and the City has determined that, under its shoreline rules, a cargo terminal entails the transshipment of cargo as a business from one location to another, and that homeporting Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet needs a new City permit because it consists of overwinter mooring of the vessels, maintenance and repairs, and outfitting them for the drilling operation, not transshipping cargo. Both the Port and Foss Maritime Company have appealed the City’s interpretation. The City Hearing Examiner held a trial ending this week and will decide whether to uphold the City’s interpretation after receiving post-hearing briefs. If the interpretation is upheld, the City may pursue enforcement actions to require the Port to obtain a new permit, which have been placed on hold pending outcome of the hearing.

Polar Pioneer in the Port of Seattle
Shell's Polar Pioneer in Elliott Bay as it exits the Port of Seattle on June 15, 2015. (Jeff Dunnicliff for the Backbone Campaign/Flickr)

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