Seattle worries Arctic drilling would impact its port

WASHINGTON – Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is poised to help Shell clear a major hurdle in its effort to resume drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean, despite opposition from her hometown of Seattle, where the company’s drilling fleet would be moored at the city’s port.

All nine members of the Seattle City Council signed a letter on Monday calling on Jewell to block the Arctic drilling, said Councilman Mike O’Brien, who spearheaded the effort.

“We are deeply concerned about increased leasing and drilling in the Arctic Ocean,” the letter stated. “There is no proven way to recover spilled oil effectively in the harsh conditions prevalent in the Arctic.”

The council members said they also worried about the “impacts of readying Shell’s ships at the Port of Seattle on the water quality of Puget Sound.”

Shell is the eighth largest oil and gas company in the world, according to Forbes magazine.

Jewell is expected, possibly as early as Wednesday, to sign off on the revised environmental impact statement for Shell’s Chukchi Sea lease, a major step toward the company’s goal of drilling in the Arctic Ocean this summer.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals forced the Interior Department to rewrite the environmental impact statement, saying the government downplayed how much oil might be drilled.

Jewell indicated at a hearing earlier this month that she was working to solve the legal issue, saying the Interior Department has focused efforts “on helping Shell move forward for this drilling season.”

After approving the environmental impact statement, Jewell also would need to sign off on the company’s exploration plan before Shell could drill.

Jewell grew up in the Seattle area and was living there, as head of the outdoor gear and clothing retailer REI, when President Barack Obama chose her as interior secretary in 2013. Environmental groups are suing over the Port of Seattle’s decision to lease a terminal for Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs, and the city’s mayor and City Council are investigating that lease.

The Seattle City Council took it further with Monday’s letter, writing that “Shell is entirely unprepared to operate safely in the Arctic Ocean” and asking Jewell to cancel the company’s federal drilling lease.

“As someone who comes from the Seattle area, you are keenly aware of our city’s proven record in firm support of science-based carbon limits, strong state and national climate policy to effectuate those limits, and responsible, aggressive local action to advance solutions,” the letter stated. “Supporting Arctic drilling is one of the most conspicuous possible repudiations of sound climate science and our own local commitments to protect our environment.”

Interior Department spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw had no immediate comment on the letter but said “we’re a bit of a ways off” from a final decision on drilling.

In 2012, Shell became the first company in decades to explore for oil in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska, and a series of mishaps ensued. Those included the grounding of a drilling rig, safety and environmental violations, and fines for breaking air pollution limits.

Shell’s drilling efforts have been on hold since, but the company hopes to resume exploration this summer.

“We are in pursuit of over 35 major permits and if we don’t achieve them all, we won’t drill,” said Shell spokesman Curtis Smith. “It’s our view we have put in place the most environmentally sensitive, thoroughly responsible plan ever assembled for exploration offshore Alaska. We wouldn’t consider moving forward with anything less.”

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