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KUOW's environment beat brings you stories on the ongoing cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, alternative energy, the health of the Puget Sound, coal transportation and more. We're also partnered with several stations across the Northwest to bring you environmental news via EarthFix.

City Officials Inspect Shell’s Arctic Drill Rig In Seattle

Are consumers really the ones to blame for Arctic oil drilling?
KUOW Photo/John Ryan
Seattle's planning department is weighing whether to fine Shell, Foss, the local contractor, or the Port of Seattle -- or all three -- for bringing the oil rig to the city.

City inspectors with the Department of Planning and Development paid a visit to Shell’s Polar Pioneer oil rig within 24 hours of its arrival in Seattle.

They had a look around the rig, parked at the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5, for possible permit violations on Friday.

Before the rig arrived, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced that the permit that allows cargo ships to dock at the Port of Seattle does not apply to oil rigs.

The Polar Pioneer came anyway.

Shell's local contractor, Foss Maritime, appealed the city's ruling shortly after Murray’s announcement.

City officials said they could issue fines of up to $500 a day, even while a ruling is under appeal.

"The only way this thing comes into compliance is by leaving," Councilmember Mike O'Brien said while looking up at the Polar Pioneer from his kayak at Saturday's "Shell No" protest.

"Obviously for Shell Oil, those are minimal numbers that aren't really meaningful to them,” O’Brien said of the fines. “That's why we're going to find other means of enforcement if the fines don't get the results we want."

O’Brien said other means could include eviction, but perhaps not fast enough to affect Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic Ocean this summer.

“It's hard for me to imagine a scenario where, within the next couple weeks, that the city's going to have the power to evict them,” O’Brien said. “In the month range, that might be realistic.” 

Shell spokesman Curtis Smith did not address a question about the legality of the oil rig docking at the Port of Seattle. In an email, Smith said that Seattle has played a role in Alaska’s oil industry ever since the construction of the Alaska pipeline in the 1970s. 

“We appreciate that we can rely on the expertise of local marine industry businesses and their employees and look forward to safely exploring our leases offshore Alaska in the months to come,” Smith said.

“They don't seem to care that they don't have a permit,” said activist K.C. Golden with Climate Solutions. “They don't seem to care that drilling in the Arctic is going to wreck the climate. They don’t seem to care what anybody thinks.”

In an email on Sunday, Diane Sugimura of Seattle's planning department said her team will be discussing what inspectors observed Friday. She said the department was still evaluating whether to penalize Shell, Foss or the Port of Seattle — or all three.

Foss representatives could not be reached for comment over the weekend.

Shell has spent nearly $7 billion exploring for oil in the Arctic Ocean. The U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management estimates that the area Shell has leased in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea holds 4.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil — more than half as much as the entire state of North Dakota, epicenter of America’s shale-oil boom.

Correction, 5/18/2015, 3:30 p.m.: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described a visit by Seattle city inspectors to the Shell oil rig at Terminal 5. They inspected it from the dock without boarding it.  

Year started with KUOW: 2009