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Shell: Drill rigs coming to Seattle despite pleas for delay

By GENE JOHNSON
Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) - Royal Dutch Shell says it has a valid lease for Seattle terminal space and a tight timeline to prepare its fleet for exploratory oil drilling in Arctic waters, so the company plans to move in its rigs despite protests from activists and a request from the port that it wait.

About a dozen protesters in kayaks met one of two drill rigs Shell plans to use, the 514-foot-long Noble Discoverer, as it arrived Tuesday evening in Everett on its way south to Seattle. The second, the 400-foot-long Polar Pioneer, has been parked at an Olympic Peninsula port but is expected to arrive in Seattle later this week to larger protests.

Shell's plan for exploratory drilling this summer in the Chukchi Sea northwest of Alaska cleared a major hurdle Monday when the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management approved it. The bureau reviewed thousands of comments from the public, Alaska Native organizations, and state and federal agencies.

The oil company still must get other permits, and opponents said they aren't giving up. They focused 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 the Arctic.

The city has said the terminal can't be used as a base for drill rigs because the port's land-use permit is for cargo operations.

Foss Maritime said it will appeal and forge ahead with its plans in the meantime. The Port of Seattle Commission on Tuesday voted to appeal, too, and to ask Foss to urge Shell to delay mooring oil exploration vessels pending a legal review.

"I now hope Shell will respect the wishes of the Port, the City and the community at large, and not bring an offshore drilling rig into Elliott Bay," Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said Tuesday in a statement.

A Shell spokesman said the company understands the request for more time but its plans have not changed.

"Given the short windows in which we have to work in the Arctic, and our shared view that Shell's lease and the supporting contract with Foss is valid, we have made the decision to utilize Terminal 5 under the terms originally agreed upon by the parties involved - including the Port of Seattle," Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said in an email. "Rig movement will commence in the days to come."

Foss also was adamant. Company President Paul Stevens said the port commission knew what activities would be occurring at the terminal when it granted the lease.

"We're going to proceed," he said.

Activists who don't want Shell to drill for oil in the Arctic turned out at the nearly five-hour commission meeting.

"Drilling for oil in the precious Arctic is not on the right side of history," said Richard Hodgin, a drilling opponent from Seattle.

The meeting drew a range of voices, including several people who traveled from Alaska. Representatives of Alaska Native corporations argued that the environmentalists opposing the drilling don't understand the economic needs of Alaska's Natives.

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

"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 that 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.

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