Last Thursday, at a meeting of the Evergreen Republican Women's Club, Bill Bryant—one of the port commissioners who's up for reelection at the end of this year, and who clearly felt comfortable in a room of suburban Republicans—answered some questions about the controversy over the port's decision to host Shell's Arctic drilling fleet. Audio of the event, which was leaked to The Stranger this weekend from a source who did not want to be named, reveals that Bryant not only enthusiastically supports mooring Shell's Arctic drilling fleet at the Port of Seattle, but is also totally dismissive of Seattle public process.
Bryant went on to tell the room that Shell's first rig is coming in early April, something that the port and Foss Maritime's lawyers would not even share in King County Superior Court earlier this month.
When asked about the Terminal 5 deal, Bryant responded with a dig at The Stranger:
Does everybody know about Terminal 5 and Shell? No? [Audience member says, "I do."] Do you? You do. Yeah, you do. [Unintelligible.] Does anybody know The Stranger? I'm quite sure you've never read The Stranger. [Room groans.] The Stranger yesterday, The Stranger yesterday rated different port commissioners between zero and five dead polar bears depending on, depending upon how you, where you're positioned on Terminal 5, and I got five dead polar bears. [Room laughs. Someone in the audience says, "Good for you."]
And then Bryant made a tighhhht remodeling joke (relatability!) before explaining his attitude toward Shell's Arctic drilling fleet staying in Seattle:
And I was like, "Great, let's go." And I had fellow commissioners who did not want to go because one of Foss's customers was going to be Shell Oil—is going to be Shell Oil. And Shell wants to bring part of their Arctic oil exploration fleet down here during the winter to have a place, 'cause you know it's all frozen up there, it's the Arctic. So they need to get out of there—I mean I think summer only lasts like three weeks or something. So you know they need to come down here before they get locked in the ice, and so they need a place where they can leave their ships in the winter and also just re-provision them and work on the equipment and that kind of stuff. They were going to pay us $8 million to use this for a few weeks a year, but even though this is a two-year, since this is a two-year lease, it shouldn't even come before the commission. Staff can sign a two-year lease without any permission from the commission at all. But because Shell was going to be one of Foss's customers, the commission wanted to have a public hearing.
Next, you can practically hear Bryant rolling his eyes when he talked about holding a public hearing in Seattle—to which the room full of Republicans chuckled appreciatively:
Having a public hearing in Seattle is always interesting. Having a public hearing in Seattle about Arctic drilling is how you get—how you are able to earn five dead polar bears.
Bryant then mentions the January 13 public hearing about the Shell deal, and says that only 30 percent of those present at the hearing were opposed to the lease. What Bryant fails to mention is that news of the decision had only become public six days prior, and that port commissioners had been lobbied for a month by industry and labor groups who knew about the Shell deal before it became public. He also fails to mention that when the rest of Seattle did figure out what the port was up to, they packed more than 150 people into a port commission meeting on a Tuesday afternoon at the airport and made their opposition loud and very, very clear.
Bryant continued, revealing when Shell's first rig will arrive:
The first drilling rig will arrive in early April, and we've been threatened with a flotilla of kayaks [Room laughs.] to block it. So, we'll see what happens.
When asked what Bryant would do with the Department of Transportation were he elected governor—Bryant has said that he's considering a run—Bryant told the Republicans he'd get rid of Secretary Lynn Peterson as director, because she was in charge of "bike paths and things" in Oregon. (Note: Peterson was an advisor on sustainable communities and transportation to Oregon's former governor John Kitzhaber.)
I would appoint a new director. Lynn is probably a very nice person, but she literally was in charge of bike paths and things in Oregon and now she's overseeing billions of dollars in programs.
But at least one member of Bryant's audience was still concerned about the environmental consequences of enabling Arctic oil drilling by allowing Shell's fleet to dock in the Seattle port. Bryant then went on to completely mislead her:
Audience member: So when the big oil ships come down, is there any provision being made to prevent a spill?
Bryant: Yeah, that's an actually a very good question. Thank you for asking that. Because the press keeps covering this as if these are oil ships, and I think people in Seattle even have the impression that we're going to be like pumping oil out of these ships across the docks. These are... [Audience member: "Killing polar bears."] Killing polar bears. If I run, wait for the TV commercial, 'cause I can see it. It's going to be somebody who kind of looks like me in a cartoon character, with a jackhammer on an iceberg, you know, all alone out there, drilling, firing off, killing polar bears in my spare time. I think people think that we're actually going to be like pumping oil across the docks or these are going to be oil tankers... They think this because oh yeah, by the way, that's what the mayor's led them to believe. But really these are exploration ships. They're not going to have any more oil on them than any other ship. There'll probably be less. In terms of environmental impact from this, it's going to be less than if we have container ships going in and out. They're going to come in, they're going to dock there for a few weeks, while somebody kind of works on the electronics and the equipment that's been in one of the most brutal atmospheres or environments, and then they're going to go back. So I would think that actually the opportunity for any sort of leakage or something will be less with this than if you had container ships moving in and out. They're not tankers, these are exploratory vessels.
Nice try, Bryant, but, no. This statement is extremely ignorant at best or deliberately deceptive at worst. No one's said—not one publication—that these are oil tankers.
What people are concerned about is the fact that Shell's Arctic drilling fleet has an awful track record for mishaps. The Noble Discoverer, a drill ship whose operators pleaded guilty to eight felonies and agreed to pay $12.2 million in fines and community service for discharging bilge and wastewater overboard and hiding it from the Coast Guard, among other things, could be docking in Seattle. And the New York Times Magazine covered what happened to the Kulluk, which was carrying more than 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel and other materials when it ran aground on a remote island off the coast of Alaska. Despite the fact that the Kulluk was not an oil tanker—it was a rig—it could have caused a catastrophe.
Bryant also doesn't mention the 75 percent chance of a spill in the Arctic (this statistic comes from the federal supplemental environmental impact statement). So is he turning a blind eye to that, or is he pretending that the only environmental impacts we should care about are the impacts directly in front of our eyes, in Puget Sound?
Bryant's statement about the environmental impact being less than container ships is also completely made up. The port did not do an environmental assessment of mooring Shell's Arctic drilling fleet, because it exempted itself from one. That's part of the reason a coalition of environmental groups is currently suing the port.
Did Bryant learn nothing from Mitt Romney's 47 percent video? Just because he felt comfortable in a room full of (presumably) wealthy suburban Republicans does not mean it was a good idea to make misleading statements about unknown environmental impacts and dismiss a major reaction from the state's biggest city. Especially when he's considering running for governor.
But wait, maybe Bryant did consider that. Because at the very end, he references Mitt Romney.
We've asked Bryant some questions about all this and will update this post if he offers answers. We'll also be posting the full leaked audio soon.
UPDATE: When reached for comment about his statements, Bryant did clarify an item mentioned above—the part about the mayor leading people to believe that oil ships were coming to Seattle. "It was not Mayor Murray, rather Councilmember O’Brien’s statement referring to potential pollutant threats and statements by others about potential oil spills confused some people who have talked with me about this issue,” he wrote in an e-mail.
UPDATE: Here's the full audio. Arctic drilling comments begin at 19:50.