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Shell And The Port Begin To Make Their Case That An Oil Rig Is Cargo

Bellamy Pailthorp, KPLU

What’s the legal definition of a “cargo terminal” in Seattle? That’s the question before the city’s Hearing Examiner this week.

The answer will determine whether Royal Dutch Shell can bring vessels from its Arctic drilling fleet back to Seattle without breaking the law -- and whether the Port of Seattle can receive $13 million for the use of the facility.

In May, the city of Seattle determined that the Port lacked a proper permit to host Shell’s Arctic drilling vessels at Terminal 5. That facility was built for cargo. Seattle’s planning department said oil rigs are a different use.

But the Port and Foss Maritime, which brokered the deal, appealed. Attorney David West is representing Foss. He said Shell’s activity at T-5 – mostly loading provisions and equipment – is the same as at any other terminal around town.  

“That’s the key issue before the hearing examiner," he said.

He added that letting the city's determination stand would set a bad precedent for all kinds of other port activities. Joshua Berger, with the Washington Maritime Federation, agreed.

“The navy ships who came from Seafair? Not allowed to be here. The fishing vessels that are working the most sustainable fisheries in the world would not be allowed to be here.”

But the city planning department and environmental groups who sued say those uses have specific permits and that the Hearing Examiner’s decision should only affect Terminal 5.

Patti Goldman, an attorney with Earthjustice, represents the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, the Sierra Club and others who filed suit to stop the lease. She says it violates the state Shoreline Management Act.

“When they change a use of a facility, by bringing in oil rigs that can leak oil and need a lot of maintenance work, they need to have a permit that’s going to have conditions that can protect public resources from those kinds of impacts,” she said.

Testimony will continue into mid-August.


Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to