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Shell and high water: the climate battle of Seattle

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By K.C. GoldenSpecial to The Times: 7 May 2015

Shell and high water: the climate battle of Seattle

IF you had to pick a logo for the campaign to wreak climate havoc, you could hardly do better than Shell’s Arctic drilling rig, the “Polar Pioneer.” Climate denial has reached its fullest expression when the melting of the Arctic ice cap is greeted as a signal to drill for more oil where the ice used to be.

This monument to hubris is on its way to Seattle’s waterfront, where Shell hopes to stage its Arctic drilling operations. It will loom large on the Emerald City’s horizon, posing a stark contrast to Seattle icons like Mount Rainier and the Space Needle. A battle begins.

As a recent study in the academic journal Nature documented, Arctic oil must be considered “unburnable.” The only world in which drilling the Arctic would be economically viable is a world where we burn three times more oil than it takes to wreck the climate. In that dystopia, coastal cities sink under rising, acidified oceans.

Shell has stirred up a hornet’s nest. Their lease to establish a “home port” in Seattle was negotiated under a “verbal nondisclosure agreement,” which allowed Shell’s hired guns to campaign aggressively for approval, while opponents were kept in the dark. Citizens are incensed, and the mayor and City Council are trying to assert the overwhelming opposition of the community they represent. Even Port of Seattle commissioners who approved the lease profess to oppose Arctic drilling.

These cloak-and-dagger tactics won Shell a lease it never would have been granted in the full light of day. The city has now found that hosting the drilling fleet would violate the Port’s shoreline permit — one of many issues that might have surfaced had the Port handled this issue in an open, public way.

Mayor Ed Murray said, “I expect the Port to obtain all required city permits before any moorage or work begins at Terminal 5 on Shell’s oil-drilling equipment.” If there was ever any doubt about whether the Port can or should rescind the ill-considered lease, the permit violation should erase it.

None of this — let us stipulate — should be necessary. Challenging Shell’s lease in Seattle is clearly not the most efficient way to protect the climate. In a rational world, we would have a binding international treaty holding global emissions to safe levels. We would have a functional U.S. Congress that would have adopted a responsible climate policy. We would have firm limits on climate pollution and — as economists on the left and right agree — a price on that pollution so energy markets could more efficiently deliver solutions.

In that world, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell would not be issuing leases to drill for oil that cannot be burned without violating the Obama administration’s international climate commitments. The relevant committee in the U.S. Senate would not be chaired by a climate denier who brings snowballs to the Senate floor to show that climate change is a hoax. In this hypothetical sane world, no one would be proposing Arctic drilling because it would violate global treaties, national laws, common sense, scientific rationality and the intergenerational contract.

We should live in that world. But the fossil-fuel industry has systematically denied us that opportunity — funding climate-science denial and threatening democracy with gushers of campaign cash to purchase political outcomes that preclude climate progress. And so the drilling rig bears down on Seattle.

Few of us would consciously choose the future we’ll get if we allow continuing expansion of fossil-fuel development — a future of unthinkable human suffering caused by climate chaos and unchecked domination of our democratic institutions by fossil-fuel interests. The oil industry understands this, so its strategy is to convince us that we have no choice — that unending oil dependence is the only way to produce jobs and prosperity. Its grip on power depends on our willingness to believe that we cannot hope to win our best and only viable future: a clean energy future. This fatalism — even more than the industry’s immense political and economic power — is the ultimate tyranny of oil. The test before us now is whether we will accept it.

Seattle knows we do have a choice — and an action plan. The “shared vision of sustainable prosperity” was developed by business, labor, environmental, education and multicultural community leaders convened by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

We are exercising that choice now — reducing fossil-fuel dependence and building a healthy clean-energy economy that can produce broadly shared economic opportunity. A healthy working waterfront is an important part of our vision: It shouldn’t be used to service drilling operations that recklessly stoke the climate crisis and mock our community’s values.

Even the Port of Seattle calls itself “The Green Gateway — Where a Sustainable World is Headed.” But what’s headed here now is a drilling fleet that would foreclose that future. If our shared vision is real, we’re going to have to stand up for it.

As the mayor said, “It’s time to turn the page. Things like oil trains and coal trains and oil-drilling rigs are the past. It’s time to focus on the economy of the future.”

KC Golden is senior policy adviser for Climate Solutions, a nonprofit advocate for clean energy.



By Coral GarnickSeattle Times business reporter: May 7, 2015

Shell drillship expected to dock in Everett before heading to Seattle

One of the Arctic drillships is expected to dock at the Port of Everett next week before continuing on to Seattle.

The Noble Discoverer, the drillship that’s part of Royal Dutch Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet, will arrive in Everett next week, according to the Port of Everett.

Shell confirmed Thursday that the ship will load and unload supplies in Everett before it heads to Seattle.

The news comes as Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said Monday that the Port of Seattle needs a new permit to host Shell’s drilling fleet at Terminal 5. The port plans to discuss the issue at a public meeting Tuesday.

Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said the company is closely watching “the actions of all interested parties” and, at the same time, is considering its options.

“At this time, we are still planning to go to Terminal 5 at the Port of Seattle,” he said in an email statement.

As a general policy, Shell does not discuss schedules or stops in detail. Smith said it is typical for plans to evolve and the company “prefers to do some work at the Port of Everett.”

It isn’t the first time Everett has hosted the controversial 514-foot drillship. The Noble Discoverer, along with other support vessels, loaded and unloaded supplies in Everett for the 2012 drill season, Port of Everett spokeswoman Lisa Lefeber said.

The port has moored, loaded and staged many of Shell’s vessels over the past five years. The icebreaker Aiviq, one of Shell’s Arctic drilling-support vessels, has been moored at the Port of Everett for nearly two years, Lefeber said.

It is currently at Terminal 5 in Seattle, along with offshore-supply ship Harvey Champion.

The Port of Seattle announced plans in early January to lease Terminal 5 to Foss, whose customer is Shell. The agreement was signed Feb. 9.

Lefeber said Everett, as well as other Washington and Alaskan ports, was evaluated as a possible location to host both the oil rig Polar Pioneer and the Noble Discoverer, but Seattle’s Terminal 5 was the best option.

The Polar Pioneer is currently in Port Angeles, and neither Foss nor Shell has said when it and the Noble Discoverer will reach Seattle.

Environmental activists oppose Foss and Shell’s use of Terminal 5 because of fears that the Arctic drilling could result in oil spills and additional fossil-fuel consumption contributing to climate change.

Environmentalists plan to take to Puget Sound in kayaks on May 16 to protest oil drilling.

Coral Garnick: 206-464-2422 or [email protected]. On Twitter @coralgarnick



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‘Buffer Zones’ Devised to Keep Protesters From Shell’s Fleet

By Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska | May 7, 2015

Final approvals for Shell Oil’s exploration season in the Chukchi Sea are expected in the coming days. And while the company is struggling to secure a home port for its ships in Seattle, they’re still set to head north by June.

Now, the Coast Guard in Alaska is proposing a set of navigational buffer zones for when fleet arrives.

The zones would cover an estimated 28 oil support vessels inUnalaska and Dutch Harbor, and about 11 in the Port of Goodhope Bay, outside Kotzebue.

The Coast Guard wants to keep people and ships 100 yards away from Shell’s vessels while they’re underway, and 25 yards away while they’re at anchor.

That’s the same buffer the Coast Guard used in 2012, the last time Shell was in Alaska. But it’s smaller than the safety zones they’ve set up in Seattle.

Cmdr. Hector Cintron, the Coast Guard’s prevention chief in Anchorage, says the zones are based on the design of the ports and the amount of traffic nearby.

“The safety zones, in general, are simply needed to ensure the maximum use of the waterways,” he says, “and that’s consistent with safe navigation practices.”

The zones will also keep any protesters away from the fleet. In Seattle, the Coast Guard has set up a ‘First Amendment Zone’ near Shell’s potential terminal, where activists can assemble if they choose. But Cintron says they didn’t think they’d need one for protesters in Alaska.

“Much like any other mariner in the waterway, they would have to obey the regulation — if put in place,” he says.

The zones are out for public comment until June 1.

If approved, they’ll take effect two weeks later in Unalaska, lasting June 15 to July 1. They last all season in Kotzebue, from July 1 to Oct. 15.

That’s the same time frame for another proposed buffer zone — one to cover Shell’s drill ships when they’re at work in the Chukchi Sea. It would keep other traffic 500 meters away from the Polar Pioneerand Noble Discoverer.



Seattle mayor, “kayaktivists” take on Arctic oil drilling

By Phuong Le: The Associated Press: 8 May 2015

SEATTLE — Royal Dutch Shell wants to park two massive Arctic oil drilling rigs in Seattle’s waterfront, but the petroleum giant will have to get around protesters in kayaks and a mayor determined to take on climate change.

The fast-approaching battle with so-called kayaktivists is unfolding in a city well-known for embracing environmental causes, laying bare the high-stakes feud over oil exploration in the icy waters off Alaska.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray took up the cause Monday, choosing a renewable-energy group’s gathering to announce that the Port of Seattle — a public agency that operates one of the nation’s busiest seaports — must get a new permit before it can host Shell’s drilling fleet.

That could potentially thwart the company’s plans, although Shell says it is closely watching events and did not expect delays.

The mayor urged the port to reconsider its two-year, $13 million lease with Foss Maritime, a company that has been in Seattle for more than a century and whose client is Shell.

“This is an opportunity for the port and all of us to make a bold statement about how oil companies contribute to climate change, oil spills and other environmental disasters — and reject this short-term lease,” Murray said in a statement.

Shell wants to drill this summer in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast to determine whether there are commercial quantities of oil and gas. Arctic offshore reserves are estimated at 26 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 130 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to U.S. Geological Survey estimates.


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