By Daniel Beekman, Coral Garnick, May 6, 2015, Seattle Times
The Port of Seattle remained silent Tuesday on how it will respond to a broadside from Seattle Mayor Ed Murray over the Port hosting Shell’s offshore oil-drilling fleet.
The Port’s elected commissioners held a closed-door meeting Tuesday afternoon to discuss what to do about Shell using Terminal 5. They didn’t issue a decision, but will take up the issue at a public meeting May 12.
Murray caused a stir Monday by announcing that the Port must apply for a new land-use permit to legally serve as a hub for Royal Dutch Shell’s Arctic-bound vessels.
The Port’s current permit allows Terminal 5 to be used for cargo loading and unloading — not for maintaining and supplying oil-drilling rigs, the mayor said.
Shell’s presence at the Port has drawn intense criticism from environmental activists worried about oil spills in the Arctic and about climate change.
The Port has options: Seek a new permit, move ahead under the current permit or attempt to send Shell packing. A new permit could potentially allow the Port to serve Shell, but getting one could take months and the city would be in the captain’s seat.
Murray on Monday urged the Port to reconsider hosting Shell, but it’s unclear whether the Port can terminate its two-year, $13-million-plus lease of Terminal 5 to Foss Maritime, a company working with Shell, or what that might cost.
Moving ahead with the current permit would expose the Port to city enforcement. The city could issue a notice of violation requiring compliance by a specific deadline, said Bryan Stevens, spokesman for the Seattle Department of Planning and Development.
Past that deadline, the city could fine the Port $150 per day for 10 days and then $500 per day, Stevens said. The city also could take the Port to court, he said.
In court, the best-case scenario for the city likely would be persuading a judge to issue a temporary restraining order and then a preliminary injunction ordering the Port to halt Shell’s activity. But that scenario almost certainly would take at least a month.
Shell’s Polar Pioneer drilling rig, which hasn’t yet reached Seattle, is slated to leave the city for the Arctic in June. There are two Shell support vessels at the Port now.
In an interview Tuesday, Murray said he’s optimistic that the Port will back down.
“I think I have a pretty good relationship with the Port,” he said, citing his summit on the maritime and manufacturing industries last May.
Murray privately warned the Port against hosting Shell before that deal was made public in January, he said.
“We were very clear with them that we did not believe this was a good idea,” Murray said. The mayor didn’t make his opposition public until March.
Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said the company doesn’t expect any recent developments to delay its plans to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer.
“We are continuing to consider the interpretation of (the Port-Foss) lease as it relates to our aspiration and at the same time considering our options,” Smith said.
Terminal 5 “remains the most attractive option,” he said.
“Seattle makes logistical sense — it has the deep-water port, the loading space and the workforce required to load out drilling rigs and supply vessels,” said Smith.