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Port of Seattle seeks delay in arrival of Arctic drill ships

Protesters hold a sign opposing Shell Oil during a Seattle of the Port of Seattle Commission meeting to address the status of a Port lease with Foss Maritime, Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in Seattle. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has urged the port to reconsider its two-year, $13 million lease with Foss Maritime, a company whose client is Shell. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

SEATTLE (AP) — Activists who don’t want Royal Dutch Shell to drill for oil in the Arctic protested at the company’s fuel transfer station in Seattle, got in kayaks to meet a drill rig arriving in Everett, to the north, and turned out at a port commission meeting Tuesday to voice their concerns, but it remained unclear what impact their efforts would have.

“Drilling for oil in the precious Arctic is not on the right side of history,” Richard Hodgin, a drilling opponent from Seattle, told a crowded Port of Seattle Commission meeting.

Shell’s plans for exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea northwest of Alaska this summer cleared a major hurdle on Monday, when the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management approved the company’s plan after reviewing thousands of comments from the public, Alaska Native organizations, and state and federal agencies.

Shell must still obtain other permits from state and federal agencies, and opponents said they aren’t giving up. They focused their attention Tuesday on the Port of Seattle’s decision earlier this year to grant a two-year, $13 million lease for terminal space to Foss Maritime, a local company that’s working with Shell to prepare its fleet for heading up to the Arctic. The city of Seattle has said the use of the terminal as a base for drill rigs isn’t allowed under the port’s current land-use permit, which is for cargo operations.

Foss said it will appeal that determination and forge ahead with its plans in the meantime. On Tuesday, the port commission voted to appeal as well, while it also voted to ask Foss to ask Shell to delay any moorage of oil exploration vessels to be delayed pending further legal review.

Foss said it would do no such thing. Before the vote, company president Paul Stevens noted that the commission knew full well what activities would be occurring at the terminal when it granted the lease.

“We’re going to proceed,” he said.

Protesters set up a tall tripod-shaped structure at the gate of the Shell facility in Seattle on Tuesday morning. In the evening, The Daily Herald newspaper of Everett reported, a small group of activists in kayaks met one of two drill rigs Shell is planning to use, the 514-foot long Noble Discoverer, as it arrived in the city on its way to Seattle.

The other, the 400-foot-long Polar Pioneer, has been parked in Port Angeles, on the Olympic Peninsula, but is expected to arrive in Seattle later this week — an event that is expected to draw larger protests.

The nearly five-hour Port of Seattle Commission meeting drew a wide range of voices, including several people who traveled from Alaska. Representatives of Alaska Native corporations argued that that the environmentalists opposing the drilling don’t understand the economic needs of Alaska’s Natives, and Alaska state Sen. Cathy Giessel urged the commission to honor the history of economic ties between Washington and Alaska that date to the Alaska Gold Rush and continue today with Washington refineries handling Alaska oil.

John Hopson, mayor of Wainwright, Alaska, a community of Inupiat whalers, said he traveled two days to speak for his allotted two minutes before the commission.

“The Arctic isn’t just a place of polar bears,” he said. “It’s a home, my home.”

Labor groups representing workers at the Port of Seattle noted the 400-plus jobs the Foss lease has already brought to the city, while opponents argued that there are no resources available to respond to a major spill in the Chukchi Sea.

Burning the oil Shell proposes to take from the Arctic would push the planet past the tipping point on climate change and worsen the acidification of oceans, they insisted.

“The oceans are more important than oil,” said Mark Hennon, 66, of Seattle. “If the plankton goes extinct, a million jobs won’t matter, nor will any amount of money, because we’ll all be dead.”

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