Council member Mike OBrien is asking his colleagues to get involved with the Port of Seattles decision to let Shells Arctic drilling fleet stay here. Who else on the council is going to stand up to Shell?
Council Member Mike O'Brien is asking his colleagues to get involved in the decision to let Shell's Arctic drilling fleet stay in Seattle. Who else on the council is going to stand up to Shell? City of Seattle

Today, Seattle City Council member Mike O'Brien will ask his fellow council members to sign a letter urging city officials to investigate the port's decision to host Shell's Arctic drilling fleet.

O'Brien's effort will make this morning's council briefing the first time all council members are pushed to take a position on a deal the port secretly discussed for months. (About damn time!)

The letter follows up on the lawsuit filed by a coalition of environmental groups against the port last week. The coalition alleges that port officials bypassed a necessary environmental review when they did not seek a city permit to change one of the port's terminals from a cargo terminal to an Arctic drilling homeport—which is essentially how Shell would be using Seattle. In response to the allegation, O'Brien's letter asks the Seattle Department of Planning and Development to look into whether the port should have gotten that permit.

The letter also highlights the fact that one of the ships in Shell's Arctic drilling fleet, the Noble Discoverer, became the subject of eight felonies last drilling season. That same rig could end up in Seattle. The Noble Discoverer's operators were fined $12.2 million for things like dumping wastewater overboard and hiding "hazardous conditions" aboard the rig from the US Coast Guard. "In particular," the letter reads, "the Council has serious concerns about Shell Oil’s drilling fleet coming to our waters in a damaged state, discharging oil and other toxic pollutants along our shorelines during transport and repair."

The juiciest part of all this, of course, is to see where all the council members land. O'Brien, Licata, and Sawant have already made their opposition to the Shell deal clear. But the rest? Can any of them really claim an environmental platform after doing nothing to stop the Port of Seattle from enabling a problem-plagued oil company and its quest to ruin the planet?

And what about the mayor? Our former mayor Mike McGinn has already written an open letter to the port commissioners, asking them to join him in petitioning Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to put the brakes on Arctic drilling. It'll be interesting to see whether Mayor Murray assumes the same silence as Governor Jay Inslee on the issue.

There are still lots of actions city council members can take to push for change at the port. Maybe they can join McGinn in writing Jewell. Or perhaps they can pester Inslee into saying something (anything!) about the Shell deal. Readers can also contact port commissioners directly. Here's why you should.

Read the full proposed council letter below.

March 10, 2015


Diane Sugimura, Director
Department of Planning and Development
City of Seattle
700 5th Ave. Suite 2000
P.O. Box 34019
Seattle, WA 98124-4019

Dear Director Sugimura,

It has come to our attention that the Port of Seattle has entered into an agreement with Foss Maritime to lease Terminal 5 for the purpose of housing Shell Oil’s Arctic Drilling Fleet. In doing so, the Port may be tacitly condoning future activities at Terminal 5 that could violate both its current Shoreline Substantial Development Permit and Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) Chapter 23.60. We respectfully request that your office investigate this potential violation, pursuant to SMC 23.90.006.

We understand that in 1996, the City issued a Shoreline Substantial Development Permit to the Port of Seattle (Project Number 9404118), designating the use of Terminal 5 as a “cargo terminal” – meaning goods must be stored and ultimately transferred from this terminal to other carriers or locations. While the lease between the Port and Foss Maritime specifies that “Lesee shall use the Premises for a cargo terminal,” Port documents indicate that Terminal 5 will also be used to moor vessels returning from the Arctic drilling season. In the past, the Shell drilling fleet has needed extensive repairs, maintenance, and conversions after returning from the Arctic. These activities may substantially change Terminal 5’s use, and could have significant adverse impacts on the surrounding environment.

In particular, the Council has serious concerns about Shell Oil’s drilling fleet coming to our waters in a damaged state, discharging oil and other toxic pollutants along our shorelines during transport and repair. Among the vessels in Shell Oil’s fleet is the Noble Discoverer, whose operator has plead guilty to eight felony offenses relating to environmental and maritime crimes, including discharging oil-contaminated water directly overboard.

When pursuing its investigation, we urge DPD to request access to all documents that would clarify the types of vessels to be moored at Terminal 5, and the maintenance and repair activities to be conducted. If an enforcement action is not warranted at this time, we urge DPD to initiate communications with the Port to clarify the activities authorized under its Shoreline Substantial Development Permit.

Thank you for your consideration.

Respectfully,

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Council President Tim Burgess Councilmember Sally Bagshaw

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Councilmember Sally Clark Councilmember Jean Godden

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Councilmember Bruce A. Harrell Councilmember Nick Licata

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Councilmember Mike O’Brien Councilmember Tom Rasmussen


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Councilmember Kshama Sawant