Seattle Hearing Examiner Approves Shell’s Use of Seattle as Arctic Drilling Homeport

Decision finds that loading drill fleet is cargo terminal use under City Code


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

The Seattle Hearing Examiner issued a decision today in the appeal by the Port of Seattle and Foss Maritime Company of the city’s decision that a cargo terminal could not be used as a homeport and repair base for Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs.

In May of this year, the City of Seattle found that Terminal 5 cannot serve as a homeport for Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet under its current shoreline permit, which allows use of Terminal 5 as a cargo terminal.

But, today, the Hearing Examiner ruled that the Polar Pioneer, one of two Arctic drillings rigs and its associated drilling fleet, were engaged in cargo terminal activities when they loaded provisions for the crew, drill bits, oil spill response equipment, and sophisticated drilling equipment for the drilling operation and transported itself and those materials to the Arctic.

The City issued an interpretation on May 4, finding that cargo terminals in the City Code are facilities engaged in the business of loading and shipping cargo from one location to another and mooring and provisioning a drill rig is not a cargo terminal use. The Port of Seattle and Foss Maritime Company appealed that interpretation to the City of Seattle Hearing Examiner.

Earthjustice represented Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, Sierra Club, Washington Environmental Council, and Seattle Audubon Society in this case.

Today’s decision also comes on the heels of Shell’s announcement Monday that it is ceasing its Arctic Ocean oil exploration campaign immediately. That decision follows a $7 billion dollar investment from Shell in its ill-conceived search for oil in the Chukchi Sea.

"The City got it right when it decided a massive drill rig is not a cargo ship and a homeport for Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet is not a cargo terminal," said Managing Attorney Patti Goldman of Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law firm representing Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, Sierra Club, Washington Environmental Council and Seattle Audubon Society. "We are reviewing the decision and considering whether to appeal."

"The long-term health of Puget Sound requires a strong and transparent public process for major decisions that impact the health of our waterways," said Chris Wilke, Puget Soundkeeper and Executive Director. "Our public agencies have a special responsibility to ensure that this trust is upheld. The decision today misses this goal entirely."

"Saving Puget Sound is everyone’s business, and that includes the Port," said Mark Powell, Puget Sound Program Director for Washington Environmental Council. "The Port needs to embrace an open public process instead of sneaking Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet into Seattle. Today’s decision doesn’t change the Port’s obligation to the people of Seattle and Puget Sound."

"Our community is committed to protecting birds and their Puget Sound habitats by making sure that the Port of Seattle follows existing laws regarding public process and environmental review," said Mary Bond, Conservation Manager at Seattle Audubon. "Citizens of this region are paying close attention and want the Port as a full partner in restoring and protecting Puget Sound."

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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