After City Finding, Why Is Shell Allowed to Dock at Port?

The city completed an inspection of the rig today.

By Josh Kelety May 15, 2015

One Question

With Shell’s Polar Pioneer Arctic drilling rig now boldly moored at the Port of Seattle’s Terminal Five in the face of a less-than-warm welcome from environmentalists, ‘kayaktivists,’ the city council, mayor Ed Murray, and most important a Department of Planning and Development ruling that hosting oil rigs violates city use permits, never mind idealistic environmentalists—why isn't the Seattle Police Department rowing out in a police boat with an arrest warrant and handcuffs?

Activists protest Shell on April 2 at Jack Perry Memorial Park. Photo by Josh Kelety

We asked DPD spokeswoman Wendy Shark, why, with Foss Maritime (Shell's partner at the port) and the port itself reduced to filing appeals the to the city hearing examiner, the rig is currently allowed to dock at the port until the situation is resolved.

Never mind idealistic environmentalists, why isn't the SPD rowing out in a police boat with an arrest warrant and handcuffs?

Here’s what she had to say:

The rig is allowed to stay at Terminal Five for the time being. According to Shark, DPD conducted an inspection of the rig earlier this afternoon to confirm DPD's original finding that the rig’s presence does, in fact, violate the terminal’s permitted use as a “cargo terminal.” (The DPD rule, announced by Mayor Murray early last week, said docking oil rigs didn't jibe with a loading terminal.) The results, Shark told me, will be announced “early next week,” though a specific date is unknown.

Assuming inspection verifies that the port is in violation of city land use codes, the port will be given two weeks to come into compliance with DPD's terms by applying for a “commercial marina” use permit, during which the rigs can chill out at terminal five. However, if the Port simply waits on its appeal and doesn’t either remedy the situation by getting a new permit or giving Shell the boot and forcing the rigs to vacate the premises after those two weeks, the city will deem the Polar Pioneer's presence illegal. At that point, the city could start fining Shell $150 per day for 10 days and then $500 per day for every day after that. (Shark noted that the compliance period may be extended if the port indicates it is actively working on changing its ways.)

“To come into compliance all they have to do is apply for the change in use permit, if it's deemed [by DPD] that they're [currently] not in compliance,” Shark said.

If the port holds its ground and doesn’t follow through on any of DPD's requests, the city attorney could instigate litigation. Shark said once the situation gets to the lawsuit stage, DPD is “out of it.”

As for the two separate pending appeals, Shark said that they won't “interfere with our process at this point,” though she assumed that a ruling from the Seattle Hearings Examiner supporting the appeals would trump any code violations from this afternoon’s DPD inspection.

We have a call in to the city attorney and council member Mike O’Brien. O'Brien has been a vocal opponent of Seattle hosting the rigs and Arctic drilling in general (he was also on a kayak yesterday to meet the Polar Pioneer).

UPDATE: O'Brien spoke at length about the situation. 

So next step activism-wise: I'll be out there tomorrow with hopefully hundreds of other people as part of the kayak flotilla, protesting Shell's presence here. I think we'll continue to use kind of peaceful demonstration as a way to kind of rally support and bring attention to Shell just being an overall bad actor. And they're not interested apparently in the maritime or environmental laws in Alaska. [And] they don't seem to care about our permits—whether we ask or even if the Port of Seattle said, 'Please don't come yet,' and they clearly see themselves as above and beyond the law. And so I think it's important that we highlight that and make sure everyone knows that this is the type of corporation that Shell Oil is and this is not the type of corporation that we want to trust with a very risky, very dangerous endeavor, both for the planet and for the Arctic.

Anybody who is ignoring the fact that we already have three times as much oil as we can safely burn on this planet and wants to go out and get more—is engaging in reckless and reprehensible behavior. And Shell's the only one currently trying to drill in the Arctic, so they're the last man standing up there. They shouldn't be drilling in the Arctic from my perspective regardless of what we do here, permitting [wise].

The long term is that we have a system that apparently is rewarding Shell's behavior for this and we shouldn't have that. We need to change all those things that are making this behavior accessible. I'm disappointed in Obama's decision to issue permits, I'm disappointed in Shell's decision, but actually, I don't think it even makes financial sense for Shell to be drilling in the Arctic. All the other companies have pulled out. The only reason I believe Shell is in it is because they've sunk so much money into it. They spent $5 billion dollars trying to find oil up there, and haven't. And so, at some point they say, "You know what? This just isn't worth it." And they are getting a lot of that PR right now, not just in Seattle, but around the country and around the world on this thing. And if they are going to keep up this behavior, that comes at a cost to them. And at some point they decide this cost is no longer worth it. Maybe they'll realize, "You know what, this is oil we're never going to burn; we can't destroy the planet that much." I don't know what it will be, but I'm hoping something will shift at some point, and it may happen on our watch, that will move us in the right direction.


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