Seattle Port Lacks Permit for Drilling Rig, Mayor Murray Says

One of Royal Dutch Shell's massive oil rigs, off the coast of Port Angeles. The Port of Seattle signed a lease with the oil giant in February. Foss Maritime tugs would pilot the rigs through Puget Sound to ensure their safety.BELLAMY PAILTHORP KPLU
One of Royal Dutch Shell’s massive oil rigs, off the coast of Port Angeles. The Port of Seattle signed a lease with the oil giant in February. Foss Maritime tugs would pilot the rigs through Puget Sound to ensure their safety.




Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said the Port of Seattle can’t host Royal Dutch Shell’s offshore Arctic oil-drilling fleet unless it gets a new land-use permit.

Shell has been hoping to base its fleet at the port’s Terminal 5. Environmentalists have already sued over the plan, saying the port broke state law in February when it signed a two-year lease with Foss Maritime, which is working with Shell.

At a breakfast for a clean-energy group on Monday, Murray said city planners reviewed the planned use of Terminal 5 as a base for the drilling fleet and found that it would violate the port’s land-use permit, which allows a cargo terminal on the site.

Shell has argued that its planned activities at the terminal — such as docking, equipment loading and crew changes — are no more environmentally risky than loading or unloading shipping containers.

Dozens of environmental groups including Greenpeace and Climate Solutions have been campaigning against the plan and training for direct action on the water using kayaks and chanting, “Shell No!”

Murray says he thinks the Port of Seattle is in serious trouble, if oil drilling rigs are the only way for it to be competitive.

The oil company wants to base part of its Arctic Drilling fleet at Terminal 5 in West Seattle, before heading to Alaska’s north slope. One rig, the Polar Pioneer, is already in Port Angeles and is waiting for a green light to come to Seattle.

The mayor says the deal is not in line with the region’s values. And the money to upgrade the terminal should be available from other sources.

“This is a city in a region where businesses are developing and choosing to locate here , where international investment is interested in participating. We should be able to build a vigorous port based on other than bringing (drilling) rigs into the city, for just a few years.”

In February, The Port and Foss Maritime signed a two-year contract worth millions of dollars that would be used to upgrade the terminal.

Oil Company Lease Stirs Revolt in Green Seattle

The Port of Seattle has agreed to a lease with Royal Dutch Shell that would allow the petrochemical giant to bring its Arctic Ocean drilling rigs to the city’s waterfront. Credit Evan McGlinn for The New York Times
The Port of Seattle has agreed to a lease with Royal Dutch Shell that would allow the petrochemical giant to bring its Arctic Ocean drilling rigs to the city’s waterfront. Credit Evan McGlinn for The New York Times


SEATTLE — The environmental messaging never stops here, whether from a city-owned electric utility that gets nearly 98 percent of its power from sources untainted by carbon (and is not about to let residents forget it) or the fussy garbage collectors who can write tickets for the improper sorting of recyclables.

So when a lease was signed allowing Royal Dutch Shell, the petrochemical giant, to bring its Arctic Ocean drilling rigs to the city’s waterfront, the result was a kind of civic call to arms. A unanimous City Council lined up alongside the mayor to question the legality of the agreement with the Port of Seattle, a court challenge was filed by environmental groups, and protesters, in bluster or bluff, vowed to block the rigs’ arrival — though the exact timetable is secret, for security reasons — with a flotilla of kayaks in Elliott Bay.

“You have signed a lease that will amount to a crime against the planet,” said Zarna Joshi, 32, a Seattle resident who was first to speak at a raucous three-hour public meeting this week before the port’s commissioners. The meeting was packed mostly with opponents and punctuated by the occasional dissenter, pointing out the hypocrisy of protesters who had arrived to denounce Shell in vehicles running on gasoline.

aground in the Gulf of Alaska while being towed to Seattle for maintenance. Credit Ted S. Warren/Associated Press
aground in the Gulf of Alaska while being towed to Seattle for maintenance. Credit Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

Officials at the publicly owned port, which has branded itself as a global maritime gateway “where a sustainable world is headed,” have strongly defended the lease, saying the two-year contract would bring in millions of dollars of revenue and create hundreds of good jobs on 50 acres that Shell would use just west of downtown. The decision to allow oil exploration in Arctic waters is in any case federal policy, noted Peter McGraw, a port spokesman, not anything that the port or the city or the State of Washington can alter.

“The port did everything right,” said a lawyer for the Port of Seattle, Patrick J. Schneider, at a court hearing on Friday defending the lease. “It is an outstanding steward of the environment.”

At the center of the dispute lies a tangle of questions about the politics of climate change. Since Shell will not be drilling or exploring for oil anywhere near Seattle, but merely parking for the night, so to speak, can or should the company be denied a berth because of what might or might not happen thousands of miles away off the north coast of Alaska, or what could take place years in the future if burning fossil fuels — maybe produced by Shell, maybe not — raises sea levels or causes other havoc? Lawyers for the port, in court filings, have said opponents are waging an “intense” political campaign that will falter on the rocks of a narrow contractual dispute.

Opponents of the contract, though, said that protecting Seattle’s environment, in the broadest sense, means taking on the fight everywhere. Whether there may be harm from greenhouse gases, or possible environmental damage from an oil spill or other accident in Alaska, to which Seattle is deeply connected in its economy and history, what Shell does in the Arctic, they say, will not stay there.

“Hosting the Arctic drilling fleet in the city of Seattle is an activity that, if successful in drilling and extracting oil from the Arctic, will almost certainly mean that all of the industrial land in Seattle will be under water, and is completely inconsistent with the region’s and even the port’s goals,” said Mike O’Brien, a Seattle City Council member.

Shell used a private shipyard here for repairing its arctic equipment in 2012, which required no public hearings. The difference this time is the involvement by the port, where the commissioners run for office and contracts are public documents. The city’s Department of Planning and Development, under a request sent this week by the City Council and the mayor, is looking at whether the port’s lease, signed with a local company, Foss Maritime, which would manage the terminal site with Shell as the tenant, is consistent with the legal designation of the terminal’s use for “cargo” handling. That decision is expected in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit by the Puget Soundkeepers Alliance and other groups, including the Sierra Club, is challenging the process under which the port reached its decision. In a hearing on Friday before a King County Superior Court judge, the opponents argued that Shell’s use will not be for cargo handling, which is the defined use for the terminal.

The judge, Mariane C. Spearman, pressed lawyers on both sides to explain what exactly Shell would be doing at the site and whether fears of environmental harm were real or speculative, particularly because the rigs are not actually here yet. She said she would rule within the next week whether the case could proceed.

If the lease is revoked, there would probably not be another space on the waterfront big enough to hold the huge rigs, said Mr. O’Brien, the City Council member. A spokesman for Shell, Curtis Smith, said the company had not looked at alternatives. The two rigs Shell plans to bring in — the Noble Discoverer and the Polar Pioneer — are enormous, one more than 320 feet tall and the other more than 500 feet long.

Mr. Smith said the company also remained committed to exploring for oil in the far north. “We have reason to believe the acreage offshore Alaska is home to some of the most prolific, undeveloped hydrocarbon basins in the world,” he said in an email. “As a result, we are advancing our plans to drill in Alaska in 2015 — dependent, of course, on successful permitting, clearing any legal obstacles and our own determination that we are prepared to explore safely and responsibly.”

Shell has spent more than $4 billion on its efforts in the Arctic, but last drilled there in 2012 after a series of setbacks, including the grounding of a drilling rig, the Kulluk, off an island near Kodiak in the Gulf of Alaska. That mishap has also given fuel to opponents like Ian Siadak, who spoke at the lease hearing on behalf of a group formed within the last few weeks called the Coalition for Port Accountability.

“It is up to you whether you will be known as the commissioners who stayed true to their enthusiastically green campaign promises, or the commissioners who sold the planet to Shell Oil,” he said, in demanding that the lease be revoked — within a deadline of two weeks. If that does not occur, he said, “your position will be clear, and we will take further public action.”

Mr. Siadak declined in an interview to specify what action that might be.

Appeal Decision Blocks Shell Oil Train Project

Victory: County must first analyze environmental and public health risks of dangerous oil rail project


Skagit River in Burlington, WA.PHOTO COURTESY OF BRENT M. / FLICKR
Skagit River in Burlington, WA.



By: Earth Justice 


Mount Vernon, WA, February 23, 2015 — The Skagit County Hearing Examiner today halted Shell Oil Refinery’s planned crude-by-rail expansion until it undertakes a full, transparent environmental review. The decision blocks the project until such a comprehensive review can be completed.

The Hearing Examiner found that Shell’s proposed project, which would receive hundreds of tank cars of crude oil every week, posed a significant risk of harm to people, water, and wildlife.

The decision finds that:

“The crude oil being brought in large quantities to a small area in the northwest Washington State is highly flammable and explosive. Catastrophes have occurred elsewhere. No one doubts that such a thing could occur here … Unquestionably, the potential magnitude and duration of environmental and human harm from oil train operations in Northwest Washington could be very great.”

“With last weekend’s oil train explosions in Ontario and West Virginia fresh in our minds, this is a commonsense victory for communities along the rail line,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney with Earthjustice representing the conservation groups. “Before allowing more oil trains, Skagit County must make sure they pose no threat to our communities, our waters, and our way of life.”

In Skagit County, the oil trains pass right through the downtowns of Burlington and Mount Vernon. The oil trains also cross the old Burlington/Mount Vernon bridge spanning the Skagit River immediately above the Anacortes Water Treatment Plant and the old swing bridge spanning the Swinomish Channel directly adjacent to the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. While there is pending state legislation that would enhance public information on oil transport, those laws are not yet on the books.

“The Hearing Examiner correctly found that the enormity of the environmental impacts associated with Shell’s Bakken oil trains warrants a full environmental and safety review,” said Tom Glade, president of local watchdog group Evergreen Islands, one of the appellants. “We applaud the Hearing Examiner for listening to the evidence and to the community.”

Shell is the latest of several projects that would involve increases in transportation of Bakken crude oil through Washington state, none of which received any meaningful environmental review. The decision highlights the failure of the state to grapple with the cumulative impacts of multiple projects, finding: “The total impact of the entirety of the massive upsurge in shipments of crude along this route has not been analyzed. The risks that adding one more actor to this scene poses to the environment and to health and safety can only be appreciated after a cumulative analysis of the entire picture.”

The Hearing Examiner also highlighted the importance of the unique ecosystem near the refinery on Padilla Bay—which support an “astonishing diversity” of aquatic life—and the County’s failure to analyze the risks of an oil spill there.  He also observed the importance of the Skagit River for salmon production and the need to review potential spill impacts on salmon habitat.

RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Friends of the San Juans, ForestEthics, Washington Environmental Council, Friends of the Earth, and Evergreen Islands filed the Shell appeal, represented by Kristen Boyles and Jan Hasselman ofEarthjustice.

More Oil Trains Could Roll Through Puget Sound To Shell Refinery

More than 100 people attended the hearing in Skagit County for a proposal by Shell Oil to build a rail expansion to receive oil trains at its Anacortes refinery. Matt Krogh
More than 100 people attended the hearing in Skagit County for a proposal by Shell Oil to build a rail expansion to receive oil trains at its Anacortes refinery.
Matt Krogh


By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

Shell Oil wants to build more tracks at its refinery in Anacortes, Washington, to receive oil by rail. At a packed hearing in Skagit County on Thursday, more than 100 people turned up to comment on the proposal.

Shell’s refinery in Anacortes is the last of Washington’s five oil refineries to apply for permits to receive oil by rail from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota.

Skagit County had previously approved the necessary shoreline permits granting the go-ahead to Shell to construct expand rail at its Anacortes refinery to receive mile-long oil trains, six of them per week. Environmental groups appealed the decision, calling for a more comprehensive review of the potential health and environmental impacts.

The room was packed Thursday, when the Skagit County Hearing Examiner heard public comments pertaining to the shoreline development and forest practice permits necessary for Shell to proceed with its proposed expansion.

Roughly 15 oil trains already travel along Puget Sound each week, servicing the US Oil, BP Cherry Point, Phillips66 and Tesoro refineries.

“That’s a lot of trains, with no studies whatsoever about human health impacts, chronic exposure, risks, all that sort of thing.” said Matt Krogh of ForestEthics, which has raised concerns about the increase in oil train traffic in the region. “There’s pent up frustration.”

In November, a car in an oil train arrived at the BP refinery 1,611 gallons short, with an open valve and a missing plug, according to a report from McClatchy, a news organization.

There were 30 Shell refinery employees at the hearing, and six of them registered to give testimony.

The company says that the rail expansion project is not intended to increase the refinery’s capacity but to partially replace crude oil that currently arrives by marine tanker.

“Shell is committed to following the permitting process and taking all appropriate measures to meet rigorous safety and environmental standards,” said Tom Rizzo, Shell Puget Sound Refinery general manager, in an emailed statement. “Shell needs the ability to bring oil in by rail to ensure enough crude to keep the refinery viable so that it can continue to produce gasoline and other fuels for Pacific Northwest consumers, and to generate jobs, economic development and tax revenue for the local community.”

The Skagit County Hearing Examiner will decide whether an environmental review must be conducted before final permits are issued for the Shell Refinery to build the necessary rail spur to receive oil trains.

The Army Corps of Engineers is also reviewing permits for the project.

Shell cancels 2014 Arctic drilling – Arctic Ocean & Inpuiat rights reality check

Today Shell announced it was canceling its 2014 drilling in the Alaskan Arctic. This is a guest blog by Faith Gemmill, Executive Director of Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL), on the court decision that forced Shell’s hand, and the Indigenous rights context behind it. 

By Faith Gemmill, January 30, 2014. Source: Platform London


Photo: Faith Gemmill/ REDOIL

Photo: Faith Gemmill/ REDOIL

Last week the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the US government violated the law when it sold offshore oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska.  The decision stems from a lawsuit filed by a coalition of Alaska Native and conservation groups.  Indigenous Plaintiffs included The Native Village of Point Hope, Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope and Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL), among numerous conservation groups.  EarthJustice, a nonprofit environmental law organization, represented our groups.

REDOIL joined this lawsuit because we strongly uphold and promote the subsistence rights of Alaska Natives and offshore development poses a very real threat to those rights in relation to the Chukchi Sea and Inupiat subsistence and that is unacceptable.

This decision is one that we celebrate.  Although we’ve had legal victories in court skirmishes on this issue, we’ve been dealt political blows that favored Shell and ignored the rights of the Inupiat and their food security.  This is another opportunity for those in decision making positions to realize that offshore drilling in this region is too risky, not only to Inupiat subsistence but to this critical ecosystem.

Indigenous Peoples have always viewed human rights and a healthy environment as fundamentally linked. The careful management and protection of the Arctic environment is a requirement for the enjoyment of Alaska Native human rights, particularly as they relate to the “subsistence” or “traditional” economy.  Indigenous Peoples of Alaska have long fought for recognition of subsistence rights as a basic inherent fundamental human right.  The Inupiat of the North Slope of Alaska continue to live the ancestral subsistence way of life, which is dependent on a healthy ocean ecosystem.

This right is recognized and affirmed in the international covenants on human rights.  Article I of both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights read in part:

In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.

Proposed offshore drilling of the Chukchi Sea puts subsistence rights and multi-national companies at odds.

Though the subsistence rights of Inupiat was not the foundation of the ruling, it puts the impacts to those subsistence rights on the table again, because the impacts to the natural habitat and ecosystem of subsistence resources needs to be analyzed once again, and you cannot separate environmental impacts from subsistence impacts, for they are the same.

In this recent win, the Court ruled that the Department of Interior failed to adequately analyze the potentially dramatic environmental effects of the sale before offering the leases.  It determined that the agency had analyzed

only the best case scenario for environmental harm, assuming oil development,

and that

[this analysis] skews the data toward fewer environmental impacts, and thus impedes a full and fair discussion of the potential effects of the project.

The agency will have to revise or supplement its analysis for the lease sale once again and must reconsider its lease sale decision.

We believe that the lease sale should be cancelled.  That would be the best decision that the US Government can make on this issue, for several important reasons.  First is the relationship that the Inupiat have with the Chukchi Sea and the resources it provides the communities for their food security.

Mae Hank, Inupiat grandmother from the community of Point Hope was happy with the decision

With this court ruling; it has given me a sense of contentment for now that we have prevented another intent to drill in nature’s abundance of our food resources. With whaling season coming in a few months we will worry not, my heart sings with joy for this ruling we know there is justice!

The Chukchi Sea is home to several important Arctic species such as polar bears, walrus, beluga whales, bowhead whales, and seals. Therefore the Chukchi Sea of the Arctic Ocean is critical to Inupiat subsistence lifestyle. These vital subsistence resources that are intrinsic to the livelihood of Inupiat within the Arctic Oceans are at risk from pollution, noise disturbance, and spills.  A major oil spill in the Arctic Ocean would be impossible to clean up and could have devastating consequences for the region’s ecosystem and communities.

Another factor to take into consideration is that Shell has proven that it has no capacity to drill in this region.  In 2012 the company suffered severe setbacks and mishaps—including running one of its rigs aground, almost running its other rig aground, and incurring pollution and safety violations exceeding a million dollars, with investigations still ongoing.  This should be taken into consideration, since the company itself suspended its program for 2013,acknowledging that it was not equipped to drill in this harsh Arctic region.

A final factor would be that the Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. Indigenous communities in Alaska are already facing severe climate impacts. Why compound this with further oil extraction disrupting their food system?   Barack Obama should take action to show he is still committed to act on climate change for the sake of future generations.  The decision whether to affirm leases in the Chukchi Sea presents an important opportunity for the Obama Administration to take real and meaningful action to address climate change. He should cancel the leases and leave the oil in the ground under the sea, where it won’t spill or further warm the planet.  Humanity would benefit from a decision to cancel the leases, but also the Indigenous peoples of the North’s food security would be assured, and an inevitable oil spill accident would be avoided in this critical ecosystem that is home to many threatened Arctic species.


Faith Gemmill is the Executive Director of Resisting Environmental Destruction of Indigenous Lands (REDOIL)  REDOIL is a movement of Alaska Natives of the Inupiat, Yupik, Aleut, Tlingit, Eyak, Gwich’in and Denaiana Athabascan Tribes who came together in June 2002 in Cordova, Alaska to form a powerful entity to challenge the fossil fuel and mining industries and demand our rights to a safe and healthy environment conducive to subsistence.  REDOIL aims to address the human and ecological health impacts brought on by unsustainable development practices of the fossil fuel and mineral industries, and the ensuing effect of catastrophic climate change.  We strongly support the self-determination right of tribes in Alaska, as well as a just transition from fossil fuel and mineral development to sustainable economies and sustainable development.

The three core focus areas of REDOIL are:

  • Sovereignty and Subsistence Rights
  • Human and Ecological Health
  • Climate Change and Climate Justice

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Victory! First Nations request for federal delay on approval for Shell’s tar sands Project granted


By Global Justice Ecology Project, November 13, 2013; Source: Climate Connection

November 6, 2013, Fort McMurray, AB – Earlier this week  the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) announced that a federal decision on Shell Oil’s Jackpine Mine Expansion, a 100,000 barrel per day open pit tar sands mine expansion, would be delayed an additional 35 days.  At the heart of this decision is the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation who has been speaking out against the project since day one citing a variety of concerns relating to treaty and aboriginal rights as well as  direct and cumulative environmental impacts.

In July 2013 the Joint Review Panel appointed to review the Jackpine Mine Expansion project granted a conditional approval laying out 88 non-binding recommendations.  However, the Panel also made some remarkable findings including the following:

… the Project would likely have significant adverse environmental effects on wetlands, traditional plant potential areas, wetland-reliant species at risk, migratory birds that are wetland-reliant or species at risk, and biodiversity… in combination with other existing, approved, and planned projects, would likely have significant adverse cumulative environmental effects on wetlands; traditional plant potential area; old-growth forest; wetland-reliant species at risk and migratory birds; old-growth forest reliant species at risk and migratory birds; caribou; biodiversity; and Aboriginal traditional land use (TLU), rights, and culture.[i]

Many of the findings of the panel give way to serious concerns of breach of federal legislation including Treaty and Aboriginal Rights, and the protection of species at risk. Many groups, including the First Nation, were surprised the Panel justified the Project on the grounds that it would be in an area ‘in which the government of Alberta has identified bitumen extraction as a priority use’.[ii]

“We’re glad an extension was provided.  It is clear that there is a lot of work to do before this project can meet the federal requirements for approval.  However, we are disappointed the Minister only granted 35 day and not the full 90 days allowed. The amount of work that needs to be done to mitigate and accommodate impacts to our Nation seems almost impossible in only 35 calendar days. But we will make best efforts and hope that Canada does the same.””  said Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

The ACFN raised concerns about the Project early on citing adverse impacts on Treaty and Aboriginal rights and title and difficulties with consultation and accommodation with the oil giant Shell.[iii]  The hearings for the Project became one of the longest hearings seen for a tar sands project and included over 60,000 letters of support for ACFN position against the project. .

“The ACFN is taking a big risk challenging the status quo of project approvals and development in the region,” stated Crystal Lameman, Climate and Energy Campaigner of Sierra Club Prairie Chapter.  “We support their arguments that are strongly rooted in the governments’ failure to protect species at risk and the biodiversity of the region and the Treaty and Aboriginal rights of the Nation,”

Many of the ACFN’s concerns were echoed and supported in the Panel Report itself, and most recently by the report of the Commissioner on Environmental and Sustainable development which, criticized Canada’s failure to meets legislative requirements under the Species at Risk Act stating “’the findings are cause for concern.’ The report also noted that a new collaborative approach rooted in using sound management practices, transparency and strong engagement is necessary to achieve the results necessary to fulfill federal commitments and responsibilities.[iv]

ACFN’s requests that Canada take concrete, immediate steps to address impacts, rather than commit to future action, are supported by the Commissioner’s observation of  “the wide and persistent gap between what the government commits to do and what it is achieving”.

Since the Panel Report  we have repeatedly requested meetings with the Federal Ministers to address the extensive list of outstanding issues we have with Shell Oil’s application to develop this recognizably devastating project in our traditional land use areas. The Nation states their request for meetings with high level ministers have been denied and they have only had opportunities to reiterate their concerns and position to technicians with little or no authority to make the necessary decisions to move their concerns forward.

“We need real action and a game plan created in partnership that addresses our concerns,” asserts Adam .  “At present we don’t feel that our issues are being taken seriously and the consequences for this governments inaction will be the annihilation of critical habitat for species at risk and other traditional resources, and the degradation of the Muskeg River and the Athabasca Delta, in our traditional homelands.”

The ACFN maintain their position that they are challenging these projects in the public interest and for the interest of all Canadians.

“The Muskeg and Athabasca Rivers drain into the Athabasca Delta, which remains one of the last remaining fresh water delta’s in the world and vital carbon sink that helps maintain atmospheric stability for the entire planet.  As Denesuline people we are the stewards of this region and we will do what is necessary to ensure that it remains here for all future generations,” concluded Chief Adam.