UPDATE: City says new permit needed before Shell can use West Seattle’s Terminal 5 for Arctic-drilling vessels; Foss ‘intends to continue work’

11:46 AM: Just in from the city Department of Planning and Development, that’s the document we’ve been waiting to see, ever since hearing that Mayor Murray told a breakfast meeting this morning that the city would tell the Port of Seattle that new permits would be needed for Shell’s Arctic-drilling vessels to dock at West Seattle’s Terminal 5. We’re reading the document now but note one item of interest early on:

(Monday afternoon image courtesy Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce webcam)
The city says the port indicates only the drilling platform Polar Pioneer would be mooring here, with “two tugboats,” not the drillship Noble Discoverer as well, as had been previously believed.

The interpretation released today is the result of the city investigation announced almost two months ago. (Updated) The mayor has now released this statement:

To prevent the full force of climate change, it’s time to turn the page on things like coal trains, oil trains and oil drilling rigs. It’s time to focus on the economy of the future: electric cars and transit, green homes and environmentally progressive businesses. I expect the port to obtain all required city permits before any moorage or work begins at T5 on off-shore oil drilling equipment. While requiring a new permit may not stop the port’s plans, it does give the port an opportunity to pause and rethink this issue. I urge the port to consider, is this really the right use of Terminal 5, even for the short term? Does this use reflect the businesses of the future we want in Seattle? This is an opportunity for the port and all of us to make a bold statement about how oil companies contribute to climate change, oil spills and other environmental disasters – and reject this short-term lease.

The port has not yet commented; when we contacted spokesperson Peter McGraw earlier this morning, he replied, “We have not received the interpretation yet. When we do, we will review it and provide a response.”

Meantime, EarthJustice, leading a lawsuit that challenged the Port granting a lease to Foss Maritime for hosting Shell vessels, sent this statement:

Today, Mayor Ed Murray announced that the Seattle Department of Planning and Development’s investigation showed the Port of Seattle cannot use Terminal 5 as a homeport for Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet under its current permit. The Port is in violation of its twenty-year-old shoreline permit issued by the City.

On March 2 in King County Superior Court, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on behalf of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, The Sierra Club, Washington Environmental Council, and Seattle Audubon Society. That legal challenge details the Port’s circumvention of public process and violation of the State Environmental Policy Act. The City’s decision today is consistent with our argument that Shell’s use of Terminal 5 is a change from the Terminal’s historical use as a cargo terminal and requires environmental review and the issuance of new permits.

“We applaud the Mayor’s office and the City of Seattle for prioritizing this investigation and reaching a conclusion consistent with the law and the public’s interest in full participation,” said Earthjustice Managing Attorney Patti Goldman. “We urge the Port of Seattle’s commissioners to take the Mayor’s invitation to use this opportunity to reevaluate the Port’s priorities and to reject Shell’s use of Seattle’s waters as a homeport for its harmful Arctic drilling operations.”

As we’ve been reporting, Shell’s already had one vessel at Terminal 5, the icecutter Aiviq, which is there right now, (updated) as is another support ship, the Harvey Supporter. The Polar Pioneer has been in Port Angeles for two weeks (with this PA Chamber of Commerce webcam focused on it), being prepared for a tow here. We’ll be adding more as we read the DPD document and as other reaction comes in.

ADDED 1:13 PM: Foss says it’s carrying on, considering this “a dispute between the city and the port”:

Foss Maritime has a lease with the Port of Seattle to operate a portion of Terminal 5. During the negotiation of that lease, Foss had extensive discussions of its planned activities there, including the moorage of the Polar Pioneer and other vessels.

Port management agreed that those activities were allowed under Terminal 5’s existing permit, which was issued by the city in the 1990s, so Foss entered into the lease in good faith.

On Monday morning, Mayor Ed Murray suggested that the activity is not consistent with the permit. This is a dispute between the city and the port. Foss intends to continue work at Terminal 5 under our lease with the Port regardless of the mayor’s comments.

The Mayor’s action also raises grave concerns about his stated commitment to Seattle’s thriving maritime community. By giving a small but vocal group the ability to jeopardize the commercial relationships between our local maritime businesses and the Port of Seattle, the Mayor is casting serious doubt on the future of the city’s working waterfront.

ADDED 4:58 PM: The mayor has published something of a rebuttal to that last paragraph.

30 Replies to "UPDATE: City says new permit needed before Shell can use West Seattle's Terminal 5 for Arctic-drilling vessels; Foss 'intends to continue work'"

  • Proud oil worker May 4, 2015 (12:29 pm)

    All you tree huggers are funny you drive cars that use oil. Most of the things you own are made with fossil fuels but you want to fight an oil rig that is going to be stored at pier 5.

  • G May 4, 2015 (12:59 pm)

    Get ready for more of this. Coteries of environmental groups (I’ve lost count) dictating policy and livelihoods for Seattle and Seattleites, while, of course, operating under tax exempt 501c status.

  • Wry Reality May 4, 2015 (1:41 pm)

    I sense a court case, based on the Foss statement and the obvious futility of trying to get an amended or new permit from the city. And if the Port were to win that, then the city and/or environmentalists will file their own court appeal, and so on.

    On this side of Elliott Bay, the activists can feel self satisfied that they’ve done something constructive against big oil by taking some kayaking classes. I’m glad they had nice weather.

    No fan of the oil companies, but I wonder about the people who could have made some good money working on this project. And I absolutely hate seeing that empty terminal.

  • B May 4, 2015 (1:41 pm)

    And G, how is that any different than hundreds of churches and “social welfare organizations” aka political groups, dictating policy while being under 501c?

  • me May 4, 2015 (1:43 pm)

    so funny to make fun of people you don’t like, isn’t it? a sign of intelligence, no doubt.

  • Carl R May 4, 2015 (1:46 pm)


  • Lesley May 4, 2015 (1:56 pm)

    I’m a Seattleite and I’m proud of our Mayor and the Council for listening to the interests of this city and pushing us into the future, a future where we cannot continue to extract and use fossil fuels while also curbing global temperature increases. I do drive a vehicle that uses fossil fuels and everything I purchase consumes fossil fuels. We don’t live in a world where I can simple drop out and not do these things because fossil fuel special interests dictate our government policies which favor them, generally. We are not given alternatives. I am happy to see we have elected officials who do not care if they piss off fossil fuel companies, who do not depend on their campaign contributions. If you want to talk about special interests who dictate policy and livelihoods, take a look at the top campaign contributions to federal election candidates!


    And they may not be tax exempt, but they sure receive an abundance of tax breaks and subsidies!


    Open your eyes.

  • Jim May 4, 2015 (2:33 pm)

    How can Boeing be allowed to stay in Seattle? Isn’t that the next logical target?

  • Lesley May 4, 2015 (3:24 pm)

    I don’t follow any logic between Boeing and Shell, particularly considering that Boeing recently gave us the 777x, which is the “most efficient twin-engine jet in the world.”

  • Les May 4, 2015 (3:58 pm)

    Every year I look forward to global warming it’s called summer.Drill baby drill thanks Foss for the “family wage” jobs you are providing.

  • Jw May 4, 2015 (4:36 pm)

    So the DPD will allow us to tear down every SFR in Seattle, then redevelop the lots with multiple houses on them. Yet they won’t allow a drill rig to be moored at T5??? Now I KNOW the DPD is a racket!!!

  • JayDee May 4, 2015 (5:37 pm)

    Talk about the sound and the fury signifying nothing. The Port has no money to refurbish T5 at the moment. Docking tugs and even a drill-rig at Terminal 5 puts the terminal back in partial productive use. Docking these vessels is no different than docking a ship for unloading. Let the Port get some rent for T5 after all; I bet the Port of Portland or Oakland would not have any qualms about hosting Shell.

    Opposing rental of T5 is cheap feel goodism…Neither global warming, CO2 emissions, or our fossil fueled economy will be altered one iota by the Mayor’s and the City’s actions. It is like being in favor of sustainability…sounds good, feels good, but impossible because our economic model and global population are by their nature not sustainable. We can lessen our per capita impacts, but the rate of global population increase will negate that. So even I am willing to replace my lights with LEDs, and compost with Clean Green, but I don’t try to think it makes up for my environmental footprint. Even putting solar panels on the house may still warm the planet, but maybe just a titch more slowly than not.

  • Adam May 4, 2015 (6:25 pm)

    The point really isn’t how “efficient” the jet is, it’s all the inputs that go into making the jet. Beside the jet isn’t efficient because Boeing or the airlines are green, it’s so that airlines can make for “green”.

  • Chris Bast May 4, 2015 (8:06 pm)

    Proud of Mayor Murray’s move today! Expanding fossil fuel infrastructure is not compatible with broadly-shared sustainable economic prosperity. We can do better.

    This isn’t about individual actions like filling up your car or turning off your lights – this is about changing the systems that lock us in to dangerous emissions. It starts with saying no the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and continues with internalizing the current costs and future risks of carbon by setting an appropriate price on carbon pollution.

  • wb May 4, 2015 (8:09 pm)

    @WryReality — just wait for the cleanup. That’ll put some people to work. Of course, it’ll knock out the livelihood of those who bring us some of the best seafood in the world–but hey.

    Have you taken the trip up to Seward yet? Home of the Exxon Valdez evidence. While you’re there, flip over some rocks.

    Thank you Lesley for injecting rational thought into this comment stream.

  • Wry Reality May 4, 2015 (10:59 pm)

    @WB, thanks for your feedback.
    For discussion’ s sake, let’s say the best option is no drilling rig in the Alaskan arctic. But what is the second best option, a poorly maintained platform or a well maintained platform? By allowing the platform, which is going to be used with or without our support, to be maintained, don’t we enhance its reliability and safety? Is that question worth pondering? Wondering.

  • Joan May 4, 2015 (11:00 pm)

    I like the mayor. But I wish he would spend his time focusing on making downtown safer so I can take my grandkids there without them being afraid. I want our local government to pay attention to local issues. I didn’t vote for him to spend his time worrying about climate change. We have a Governor who seems to have that issue on his agenda.

  • wscommuter May 4, 2015 (11:28 pm)

    @wb, etc. … Whether Shell is allowed to park its rig here will not – NOT – affect drilling in the Arctic at all. Just a fact. I realize you and others think the symbolic act of trying to prevent this makes you feel better … but it will not change policy or law concerning Arctic drilling in the least.
    So that leaves us with this silliness on the Mayor’s part. Why silly? Because fighting this environmental cause is not the city’s job. Perhaps a lovely ideal … but not his job. When all of the city’s problems have been solved and the Mayor has extra time on his hands, then by all means, go for it. But when the city hasn’t yet solve its actual duties – affordable housing, roads, policing/community safety, maintaining infrastructure, parks (… need I go on?), then I find it inappropriate for the Mayor (whom I mostly otherwise support and enthusiastically voted for) to inject himself into this issue for what is nothing more than a gratuitous gesture.

  • Argonautter May 4, 2015 (11:35 pm)

    Carbon dioxide levels are above 400 parts per million and scientists agree that we should be in the 350ppm range to maintain life as we know it. Carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere. The average global temperature is increasing with 2014 being the hottest on record. Climate change is real.

    The rapid increase in atmospheric carbon coincides with the industrial revolution and then a rapid rise following WWII with the rise of suburbs, commuting in individual cars, and producing throw-away goods. Carbon dioxide comes from burning fossil fuels, and we’ve done a LOT of that in the past 125 years! I applaud every single move to limit those emissions. Keeping fossil fuels in the ground means their carbon doesn’t end up in the atmosphere and warming our planet.

    Sustaining a community requires a balance between the environment, the economy and the society (quality of life measures like the arts and neighborhoods). Finding the sweet spot can be challenging, but we can do better than attack someone who defends one of the three pillars. We need all three, and we need to work together.

    Thank you Mayor Murray for standing against an extraordinarily wealthy and powerful oil company focused on profits and influence. My children and I appreciate that you recognize the science and are working toward sustainable solutions for Seattle that don’t include driving the getaway car for Shell.

  • Chris Bast May 5, 2015 (6:47 am)

    It’s so great that we have so many active community members who are concerned about the various areas we have for improvement here in Seattle. I’m sure everyone is standing up, speaking out, giving to charities working on these causes, being active in the community and working hard to make Seattle an even better place for all of us.

    The thing about both climate change and the fossil fuel system we’re currently tied to is that both contribute to making many other problems worse. For example, social justice communities are frontline communities when it comes to climate change and other environmental problems. Communities of color, immigrant communities, and low income communities face disproportionate impacts. It’s why the Mayor recently announced the new Equity and the Environment initiative of the city. Additionally, the current energy system generates power and wealth for the few while increasing costs and burdens on the rest of us. Infrastructure investment decisions lock in long term consequences by artificially keeping *prices* low while ignoring *costs*. Costs that we all end up paying through other means that are deleterious to the economy and quality of life. These issues that others have mentioned are all connected and related to power, justice, economics, and the systems that promote and facilitate fossil fuels.

    It is not in any way a given that Shell will drill anyway regardless of whether they can use Seattle as a staging ground. The timing for Arctic operations is very specific with a limited window for drilling operations. Time is of the essence so it’s not going to be easy to just restart somewhere else. And, where would that somewhere else be? The rigs are already in PA. Where will they go to stage the operation? Is it guaranteed that that place will allow them? These same arguments were made regarding coal export – and 4 out of 6 proposals are now dead and the other two are withering on the vine.

    It is sad that many folks believe in their own futility to control their futures. But, it’s a symptom of the hold that fossil fuels have on us as a society that many believe this is the only way forward toward progress when it’s actually holding us back. We can do better. We will do better. We must do better.

  • Neighbor May 5, 2015 (8:40 am)

    What Chris Bast said. Well said, Chris. It was nice to hear someone who didn’t feel like having to respond to the cynicism and the snarkiness of some commenters. Each of us can do something and must do something with our actions and choices. Never mind the dysfunctional cynics that wants to point out “hypocrisy” or “it’s going to happen anyway”. We have a voice.

  • Lesley May 5, 2015 (9:10 am)

    Thank you to others for chiming in. We can do better than this, we can create jobs that do not involve an industry that is destroying the Earth. And what we do on a global level starts on a community level. If we and other progressive cities say “no,” it not only sends a message, but it also makes it more difficult for fossil fuel companies to continue business as usual. For an idea of “business as usual” for a company like Shell, you may want to read this long, but fascinating article from last year which chronicles what happened to the Kulluk, which was docked in Seattle a few years back, and the mess that came of it because of Shell’s greed and poor judgement, as well as a great back story about what Shell is really trying to do in the Arctic and why they are scrambling.


  • T Rex May 5, 2015 (9:11 am)

    Personally, I think the mayor did this for one reason: Looks good on his resume.

    All you people who are concerned about the climate, you do realize that even IF America were to suddenly change their ways it will do no good if other countries do not. And they will not. China does not give a rat’s bottom about the environment. Beijing residents have not seen a clear blue sky in years. And they probably never will again.

    We can all hate the oil companies all we want, but my guess is that human kind will wipe itself out long before the planet comes apart.

    George Carlin said it best: “The Earth will be fine. Its us we need to worry about.”

  • wscommuter May 5, 2015 (9:21 am)

    @Chris Bast – my apologies if I wasn’t clear. I don’t for a minute believe that individual action is futile. But I am also a realist and moreover, oppose hamstringing Shell as a “tactic” to oppose what one disagrees with – I find that unethical, and I don’t think ethics stop mattering if one finds the target of the hamstringing “evil” as so many see oil companies to be. Want to stop Arctic drilling? Good for you – work with legislators to pass laws doing so.
    Reality, however? Fossil fuel WILL continue to be the dominant source of energy for decades to come until we either legislate around it (that won’t happen for a variety of reasons) or make it economically unfeasible/make alternative economically viable (much more likely to happen sooner).
    Tax gasoline at a rate to raise the price to $6 or $8 gal. Correspondingly, tax natural gas, coal and so on. Short term, oil and gas companies will reap a windfall and increase production; mid/longer term, through market forces, we will convert to other technologies which can compete at that price point. Detroit will develop more fuel efficient cars, electric, etc. Solar will be more competitive for home heating. Economic forces are what got us here – cheap and plentiful oil (and coal, etc.) drove the innovation for the 19th and 20th century technologies we are addicted to now. Change will not come any other way – economic forces will have to drive the next paradigm shift. Government policy – tax policy – can drive that change.
    In the meantime, short term, this Shell issue is for me about the jobs it creates here for our neighbors. So pulling a stunt like you suggest – effectively “tripping” Shell to mess up one season, is not only unethical in my mind, but it also hurts some of our fellow Seattle neighbors who could land some decent-wage jobs.
    High falutin’ ideals are nice for aspirations and college sophomore philosophy class … but I respectfully suggest some balance with real-world truths makes for much more sound policy.

  • Chris Bast May 5, 2015 (9:35 am)

    This actually isn’t about individual action. Individual action is great. But, this is about flipping the systems that are all currently aligned toward fossil fuels and align them instead toward the alternatives. It’s not philosophy, it’s economics. And as I said above, you’re right: It starts with saying no to the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and continues with internalizing the current costs and future risks of carbon by setting an appropriate price on carbon pollution. That’s the path to good paying jobs and a broadly-shared sustainable economic prosperity that we all want.

    Btw – this isn’t about the future. This is about the present. Solar in the US is already cheaper than the levelized cost of energy (but that’s a tangent, click the link below for more details). The future is now – we are it. Let’s embrace it!

  • G May 5, 2015 (9:57 am)

    We’ve developed a modern society because we have a cheap, portable supply of oil. How is California able to subsidize vast solar farms and convert it’s energy use to 5% renewables? Because of the wealth that is created by conventional and cheaper energy sources. Taxing oil and gas essentially amounts to a transfer of wealth from one economic class – the poor and middle-class – to another to another set of energy “overlords,” those who claim to be saving us from ourselves at a price. There really is no difference between the oil executive and the altruistic sounding environmentalist – it’s all about control.

  • skeeter May 5, 2015 (10:10 am)

    What a joke. People are praising the Mayor’s “strong stand” on this issue. Did anyone read the document? The city is simply advising Foss that their existing permit is for cargo operations and Foss should apply for an additional/changed permit for the moorage and tugboat operations they plan on doing at the Terminal. This can be fixed in about an hour folks. Even *if* the city has jurisdiction over T-5 (I’m not so sure about that) then Foss can simply apply for an updated permit. Should be a 48 hour turnaround. City can’t deny a permit unless there is a Seattle law that prohibits moorage and tugboat operations in city limits.

    I’m glad the city is advising its businesses to obtain the proper permit. But there is nothing substantive here folks.

  • rob May 5, 2015 (5:51 pm)

    Next we need to find a way for nature to stop burning fossil fuel. We need to cap the volcanoes in Hawaii, stop lighning strikes in the woods, cap the methane from coming up through the ocean floor and your compost pile

  • joel May 6, 2015 (10:42 pm)

    odd how the council and mayor allowed tent city off West Marginal – that land was clearly not zoned for what they allowed it to be used for. i guess when it’s the city they can not following zoning but yet enforce zoning on others?

  • jason benson May 12, 2015 (12:41 pm)

    Dear Mayor Murray, read this:

    On Monday, the Obama administration gave Shell Gulf of Mexico, Inc. conditional approval to start drilling for oil and gas in the Chukchi Sea this summer.

    Abigail Ross Hopper, director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said in a statement: “We have taken a thoughtful approach to carefully considering potential exploration in the Chukchi Sea, recognizing the significant environmental, social and ecological resources in the region and establishing high standards for the protection of this critical ecosystem, our Arctic communities, and the subsistence needs and cultural traditions of Alaska Natives.”

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