News Feb 25, 2015 at 4:00 am

To Make Shell's Arctic Drilling Dreams Come True, the Port of Seattle Held Secret Negotiations and Entered into a "Verbal Nondisclosure" Agreement to Help an Oil Company

Trying to stop Shell: That’s the “Noble Discoverer,” one of the rigs in Shell oil’s Arctic drilling fleet, in the background. Jiri Rezac / Greenpeace


About that Nature article, here's a good summary with easy to read graphics:…
The whole issue of extracting oil and coal would go away if pesky consumers (you and me) would stop demanding cheap, abundant energy.

We could all buy electric cars tomorrow, solar panels for our roofs, wind turbines for our yards (or electricity from the utility that comes from those sources). The reason we, don't is that it would cut into our range and time of travel (it takes forever to re-charge a car), meals out, housing choices, etc. in a draconian way. Electricity from those sources costs 50% to 250% more than what it costs to get from coal (with the exception of wind on the land, if we are willing to accept wind turbines on every acre we look at, the damage to birds and bats, and the lights going on and off as the wind starts and dies).

We aren't willing as consumers to pay to save the planet and then we blame Shell for providing us with the energy at a price we are willing to pay, Shell and other corporations don't care what we choose to buy as long as they can make a return for investors selling it to us. They don't care about the price of what is sold as long as they get 5 or 10 cents on every dollar for the investor that fronts the money for wind turbine and its installation, the solar panel, or the oil rig.

The following cost estimates for energy by source are from the Obama Administration, not big oil, or big coal.…

Don't look at big oil or coal when you think about what causes global warming, look in the mirror.
The biggest problem is the underhanded manner that Port Commissioners handled this, keeping the people and other public officials totally in the dark. The cabal was Commissioners Bill Bryant, John Creighton, and Stephanie Bowman; none of them will ever get another vote from me. Never again.
@2 You look in the mirror, asshole. I haven't owned a car for six years.
Great reporting, Ms. Brownstone, and thanks for keeping us informed, as the Port certainly isn't!
@4, How many square feet do you live in? Detached or multi-family? What is the fuel source for the heat? The vast majority of our CO2 emissions come from our buildings. not cars. What kinds of goods and services do you buy? How were the goods transported to the point that you took possession of them? How much do you eat out? Like most Americans, nearly 40% of meals? That requires separate buildings to be heated, cooled, and lighted. Are you willing to increase your electricity cost by 250% to have all of your energy produced by solar panels? If your residence is heated by natural gas, are you willing to have that bill go up by 300% to have it converted to solar electric heating? Are you willing to see a wind-turbine everywhere you look? Even if you are, that still won't supply the electricity we require to heat, cool, and light our businesses. Are you willing to have all the goods and services you purchase increase in costs by 10 to 15% to reflect energy inputs from solar panels only? Are you willing to do without heating, air-conditioning, and lighting when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow?

I am not picking on you, just pointing out that because you don't own a car, does not mean the problem does not lie in the mirror. You aggregate all of those behaviors, by all of us together, and you get global warming. Again that is not the fault of big oil or big coal. They will deliver any form of energy to us we are willing to pay for provided they can make a 5% to 10% margin on each unit of energy delivered to attract the investment needed to build, install, and maintain those wind turbines and solar panels.

We could be off hydrocarbons in five years, if we were willing to make those trade-offs as consumers. We aren't, so we extract hydrocarbons at higher levels than ever.
@7. Exactly right. If consumers will pay for it, suppliers will figure out a way to give them what their consumer preferences desire.
@6 Although I answered affirmatively to most of your questions (and accepted several shaky premises in the process) I actually am with you on much of what you are saying. I strongly dislike the culture that embraces tiny individual choices as a way of absolving their responsibility for the bigger choices people whether they are really aware of it or not. The problem is that people don't really have the ability to make or even consider most of the choices you are talking about. That's why government as representatives of those people has a role.

If consumers have no choice but to pay for it, because no alternatives are available to them, suppliers will of course provide it: the system has been set up to deny people that choice and to make the position of those suppliers as comfortable as possible. I am for providing people with more opportunities to make those choices, aren't you?

As for Shell, maybe Tacoma would take them. Maybe Dutch would take them. But hosting Shell equipment in Seattle is a choice the people of Seattle should have. Shouldn't they?
@9 Should read " a way of absolving people's responsibility for the bigger choices they make whether..."
"If consumer have no choice but to pay for it, because no alternatives are available to them ...." You need to unpack that a little more.

If you mean by that cost-competitive energy choices to oil, coal, natural gas, and other fossil fuels, the reason that those aren't being provided is suppliers, like all of us, are subject to the laws of physics. It is relatively cheap and easy to mine, transport, and strike a match to a hydro-carbon. Very difficult to harvest sunlight into a usable form of energy. The most efficient photo-voltaic solar panels, with the best technology we can throw at it, and mining scarce, rare-earth metals (which China controls most of - which raises strategic issues similar to hydrocarbons and OPEC - but energy security is another question) is about 5% efficient.

Those in the environmental camp say, "We sent people to the moon". True. But price was no object. We also have not been back. We can send people to the moon, but overcoming the physics is prohibitively expensive and the economic value that returns from those trips to the moon is non-existent. They say, Look at WWII." We turned the economy to being the arsenal of democracy and producing more war supplies then the axis and all other allies combined. We also did not produce any automobiles for the public and other consumer goods. Our society was willing to accept it for a time (although many argued for not finishing the war against Japan because the privations had gone too long, the casualties too high, etc.) because of a clear, present, AND IMMEDIATE danger, not some undefined and uncertain (in terms of how it plays out), but real danger to future generations. Price is no object when other nation states have a gun to your head.

Actual marketing experiments show people will pay 5% more for green certified lumber, but once the premium is more than that, the stuff sits on the shelf, unselected. (Jarod Diamon, "Collapse")

We have the situation we have because of decentralized, individual decision making. Aggregate those together and you macro-economic behavior. If we are unwilling to make those hard sacrifices individually, why would we be willing to go to the ballot box and empower central decisions with such draconian, immediate, gratification-denying consequences? Put another way, why are people going to choose differently in a democracy of ballots than a democracy of dollars?
Put another way, look at the auto industry. Elon Musk is selling an all electric car with reasonable range and superior performance to an internal combustion engine. He appears to be doing so profitably; however, who he can sell to is limited those willing to limit themselves to a two-seater and with income sufficient to pay $80,000 for their vehicle. Would he love to hit a price point of half that so he can gain market share beyond 1%? Yes. He is throwing all the R & D investment and capital investment (a first ever battery plant) that he can at it, but is not making a Henry Ford breakthrough, where he can make it affordable to the masses. Because of lack of will? Lack of motivation? Lack of resources? Nope. Lack of being able to change the laws of physic.

The Prius. Somewhat of the same issue. They sell 30,000 cars a year in a 13 million vehicle a year market. It sells to a niche of customers that can afford $6k more to get 50 mpg in a small car rather than 40 mpg in a non-hybrid. Lack of innovation and investment is not holding them back. Physics.
I'll address more of your comments when I go home tonight. The phrasing of the sentence you choose to unpack is based on yours, which deserves its own unpacking. Consumers will always choose food that doesn't kill them or make them ill, but before the FDA, that choice was not available to many Americans.

For now:

The danger to future generations is very real. Its parameters are both well defined and certain. Its effects are already exacerbating problems all over the world. Do things in Syria develop in the way they have over the last 5-10 years without the very well documented climatic and agricultural issues that country has dealth with?

It takes a great deal of intention and effort to link our daily lives to the problems our world is already facing and the catastrophe we will face if we do not act. I will acknowledge that we aren't great at making that link. I do not personally feel great hope that we will be able to adapt in an effective and timely manner, but it's worth pushing for such adaptation on every front available. Because the alternative is danger of a magnitude far greater than WWII, and it will be permanent.
Both wind and solar are cheaper than fossil fuel if you stop exemptions & subsidies for fossil fuels.

Do it today. Save money and kick the 18th Century oil & coal barons to the curb!
I agree wholeheartedly that the engineering of a world in which we adapt to a changing climate will need to be based on a vastly different set of physical requirements than the world we have been used to living in for the last few generations. That is because what we are used to is going to screw us for good.
@14, Not according to the Obama Administration.
The current modern state of nuclear power is of course the cheapest, cleanest, most environmentally friendly technology. It's too bad that the crunchy hipsters refuse to get with the times.
Excellent reporting. Hope to see more like this as you follow the story.

I moved here in 1997 and never understood the whole deal with the Port. Why is it so implacably backwards and crooked in a supposedly hippy trippy state and city?
@18 The institution predates the "hippy trippy" culture. It also has huge discretionary taxing authority and very little in the way of rules on doing business in public. It is expensive and difficult to win a countywide seat for an office that most people are barely aware of, so certain types are naturally more successful in campaigns for those seats.
@18;How do you think the port should be run?
So does WA state have a recall process to begin on the other commissioners who snuck around in the shadows and kept this under wraps for so long? I'd definitely sign a list in favor of recalling them asap.
Ya' know, the longer the post, the less it's read. We are hosting the rigs for their down time in Seattle. They aren't drilling, they aren't polluting, they are a source of revenue for the Port of Seattle. They will go back North in the spring just like the fishing boats and do what they have to do. You and I can 't stop them. So just quit posting the environmental B.S and go and drive your car and use fossil fuels like you always do and quit lying to yourself that you are and environmentalist.
An interesting thing about this, oil trains and coal trains is that they seem to be very dependent on vulnerable infrastructure. Not that I would advocate direct action in the defense of the ability of our planet to sustain life. DA is, of course, always wrong. *COUGH*bostonteaparty*COUGH* And, of course, if anyone did partake of such action it would be important that they make sure that the proper agencies were warned in advance to minimize the potential loss of life. And that the companies that insure such projects ought to be told about it so that they could charge the proper rates for them. Of course this, in and of itself, might make these projects less financially viable.

Regarding cars, the idea of an environmentally friendly private use auto is self contradicting. Powered by hydrogen, electricity, literal or figurative dead babies, POV's are a net loss to the environment. Please see The Car and the City by Alan Thien Durning. From the library.
The entire POS Commission should be sacked in future elections for blatantly violating the Open Meetings Act and the Shoreline Management Act. Seattle and the Department of Ecology should enforce the SMA. As for the scheming POS CEO, he works for the Commissioners, who would shitcan him if they had the slightest shred of integrity. The Governor and the Congressional delegation should wear the Cone of Shame for not letting out a peep of protest. The Obama administration will be cursed by future generations for selling out the planet for 30 pieces of silver, which translates into $2.1 billion in today's dollars, a pittance compared to the stupendous economic impact of future climate chaos.
PS Fantastic reporting!!!
"Racketeering refers to criminal activity that is performed to benefit an organization such as a crime syndicate. Examples of racketeering activity include extortion, money laundering, loan sharking, obstruction of justice and bribery." Look for Shell Oil money in the Bryant campaign fund.
@27: I'm so glad you don't live in Seattle, either. Hopefully you're completely outside of Washington State, period. Your ignorance and self-admitted incurable stupidity are repugnant. I dare you to even consult Webster's Dictionary to learn what that means.

Bill Bryant, Seattle Port Commissioner-GOP yes man-running for Governor is largely to blame for the secret meetings that green-lighted the clearly unwanted Shell rig eyesore now anchored in Puget Sound waters. Bryant, Doug Ericksen, Michael Baumgartner need to be ousted from their bought offices of corporate lobbying ASAP.

Please wait...

Comments are closed.

Commenting on this item is available only to members of the site. You can sign in here or create an account here.

Add a comment

By posting this comment, you are agreeing to our Terms of Use.