Press Association via AP

Shell's Arctic return faces hurdle at Seattle port

Seattle delays Shell's Arctic drilling plans by requiring port to have a new permit before hosting Shell's rigs

Royal Dutch Shell's quest to return to Arctic drilling for the first time in three years could face delays after Seattle ruled that the city's port must apply for a permit before hosting rigs.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, a Democrat who has fought against new projects by coal and oil companies, applauded the requirement by the city's planning department.

“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,” Seattle's Mayor Ed Murray said on his website. 

The Puget Sound region has a decades-long history as a hub for equipment used in energy drilling in Alaska.

But some environmental groups and politicians have pushed for the region's economy to move beyond oil, gas and coal and into clean energy.

Emily Johnston, spokeswoman for 350 Seattle, an organization that is part of the anti-drilling “sHell No” coalition, applauded Murray’s announcement, The Seattle Times reported. 

“We hope the port will do the right thing and use this as the rationale for rescinding the lease,” Johnston told the paper.

But others blasted the mayor's position and accused him of harming Seattle's businesss community.

“This eats away at the trust people have that they’re going to get a fair shake,” Jordan Royer of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association told The Seattle Times. “The mayor is using the city’s regulatory authority in a political manner.”

Shell is hoping to return to Arctic oil and gas exploration for the first time since 2012, although the U.S. Interior Department has not issued its full blessing yet.

During Shell's accident-prone drilling season that year, the Coast Guard had to evacuate crew from an enormous oil rig that eventually grounded and wound up being scrapped.

Shell has been planning to base a drilling rig and tug boats in Seattle before heading up to Arctic waters off Alaska.

While the port is expected to eventually get the permit, a spokesman for Mayor Murray said the process was likely to take weeks, which would delay Shell's plan and give environmental groups a chance to grow their anti-drilling efforts.

While the price of oil has fallen over the last year, the Arctic is coveted by energy companies for its long term potential. The Arctic is estimated to contain about 20 percent of the world's undiscovered oil with some 34 million barrels of oil in U.S. waters alone.

A Shell spokesman said the company was still reviewing the Seattle planning department's move on permit requirements.

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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