Alaska News

Environmentalists sue Port of Seattle over Shell's Arctic drilling fleet

SEATTLE — Several environmental groups on Monday sued the Port of Seattle to prevent Royal Dutch Shell PLC from using Seattle's waterfront as a homeport for its Arctic oil drilling fleet.

The Port of Seattle in early February signed a two-year lease with Foss Maritime Co., whose client is Shell, to rent 50 acres across from downtown Seattle.

The lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court also names port commissioners and Foss. The lawsuit says the port violated state environmental laws when it did not do a review before signing the lease. The lawsuit asks the court to vacate the lease.

Patti Goldman, managing attorney with Earthjustice, said having the Shell drilling fleet at the terminal represents a different use from the previous cargo terminal with distinct environmental impacts. It should have undergone an environmental review with a public process, she said.

"The port has violated the public trust by failing to abide by our laws," said Goldman, who is representing the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, The Sierra Club, the Seattle Audubon Society and the Washington Environmental Council.

In a statement Monday, the port said it had not received the lawsuit, but it "believes it has complied with all necessary environmental requirements" regarding the lease with Foss at Terminal 5.

Port of Seattle CEO Theodore Fick previously wrote to Goldman, saying the port exercised its discretion and determined the lease was exempt from a review under the state environmental law. The lease did not represent a change from the activities of the previous tenant, he said.

About eight vessels would spend the winter at the terminal and that major repairs would be done at a permitted shipyard, Fick said.

Foss spokesman Paul Queary said Monday the terminal is permitted for ships to be moored while being loaded and unloaded, and "those are the services Foss will provide to the Arctic exploration fleet."

Shell is considering offshore exploratory drilling again this summer in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska's northwest coast if it can obtain the necessary permits.

Environmental groups say the port was secretive in its lease negotiations and did not allow for proper public review. They also say Shell's drilling fleet has a poor track record when it comes to pollution and compliance with environmental laws.

In 2012, Shell's drill vessel Kulluk ran aground after it had broken free from its tow in bad weather near Kodiak, Alaska. Last year, a drilling company hired by Shell to operate a drill ship in 2012 agreed to pay $12.2 million after pleading guilty to committing environmental and maritime crimes while transiting to and from Arctic waters.