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Foss CEO: Arctic Drill Rigs Coming To Seattle Despite City, Port Objections

Kayakers protesting the arrival of Shell's Polar Pioneer rig in Port Angeles in April
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols
Kayakers protesting the arrival of Shell's Polar Pioneer rig in Port Angeles in April.

The Seattle Port Commission has voted to delay the arrival of Arctic drill rigs on the Seattle waterfront, but Shell Oil’s contractor is vowing to bring them here anyway.

After a contentious five-hour meeting Tuesday, the Port Commission decided to tell Shell and contractor Foss Maritime that bringing the rigs to Seattle would be illegal, at least for now.

Foss CEO Paul Stevens rejected that.

"We're sticking to our plans,” he said. “The oil rigs are coming down this week."

Last week, Mayor Ed Murray announced that the port's permit for cargo ships doesn't apply to oil rigs, so Foss and Shell would have to get a new permit. Such a delay could make it difficult for Shell to get its two rigs up to the Arctic in time for the summer drilling season.

Shell has been planning to bring the two rigs to Seattle, before sending them up to Alaska.

On Tuesday, port commissioners said they didn't want a protracted dispute with the city.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Seattle Port Commissioners during Tuesday's five-hour hearing.", "fid": "117633", "style": "card_280", "uri": "public://201505/IMG_0626.JPG", "attribution": "Credit KUOW photo/John Ryan"}]]"We need to find a path where the city and the port are working together to create the most vibrant maritime community we possibly can here in Seattle,” commissioner Tom Albro said. “I don't believe Shell Oil is part of that future."

Albro and the other commissioners asked Foss to hold off on hosting the rigs until the permit problems are cleared up. They also voted to appeal the ruling announced by Ed Murray.

Foss had appealed the city's decision earlier in the day. The Port Commission's vote didn't seem to sway Stevens one bit.

"We're in conformance with our lease, and we're going to continue to do what we said we were going to do," he said.

Stevens was heckled by opponents of Arctic drilling.

Unlike a typical, lightly attended port meeting, crowds lined the walls and overflowed into the lobby. And people came from far away to get to speak for two minutes each.

Zoe Buckley Lennox and other Greenpeace activists spent nearly a week attached like barnacles to the side of the Shell drill rig as it sailed toward Washington.

"Be on the right side of history because you can, and not everyone can make the difference that you can," she urged the commissioners.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corporation CEO Anthony Edwardsen of Barrow, Alaska", "fid": "117634", "style": "card_280", "uri": "public://201505/IMG_0609.JPG", "attribution": "Credit KUOW photo/John Ryan"}]]

Anthony Edwardsen traveled two days from America's northernmost city -- Barrow, on the Arctic Ocean -- as part of a large Alaska delegation that supports Arctic drilling.

"If this motion passes, Shell will have to cancel its program, and we will have cost our region and our people significant income and important jobs,” he said. “This is not about Seattle. This is about our livelihood as Inupiats."

Edwardsen said his employer, a native-owned Shell contractor on the North Slope, paid his way to Seattle.

Seattle planning officials said the city does have the ability to issue penalties for permit violations, even while that permit's being appealed.

Year started with KUOW: 2009