2 june 2015

Greens in one last legal bid to block Shell from drilling in the Arctic; a surprising poll on Shell and Seattle

Seattle PI June 2, 2015 | By Joel Connelly

The Shell game rolls on, with Seattle at center stage.

Greens have launched one more federal court appeal in a last ditch to block the oil giant from drilling in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, which Shell plans to do later this summer.

And drilling opponents have taken a poll with the goal of showing that the public “resoundingly” wants Seattle officials to “take a hard line” in their dispute over Shell using Seattle as a home port for its Arctic fleet.

The Shell drilling rig Polar Pioneer. Environmental groups are mounting a “hail Mary” legal challenge to block plans to drill in the Arctic this summer. Photo by Jordan Stead/

The poll did not yield the results intended.

Ten major environmental groups filed papers with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday, charging that a U.S. Interior Department agency engaged in a “rushed and cursory” review before it approved Shell’s drilling plans.

The federal courts, including the 9th Circuit, have intervened before in the long-running battle over Shell drilling in the Chukchi Sea. The greens’ have scored past victories, but mostly over the speed and cursory environmental review with which the Bush administration approved lease sales in 2008.

Shell paid $2.1 billion for its Arctic leases. The oil giant intends to drill six exploratory wells this summer at a site about 75 miles northwest of the Alaska hamlet of Wainwright.

“Drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean will only hasten climate change at what is already ground zero for global warming,” said Erik Grafe of Earthjustice, which is handling the legal action.

Its plaintiffs include a usual suspects list of environmental groups: The Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club and Wilderness Society.

Earthjustice is also representing local groups in a lawsuit against the Port of Seattle for its lease allowing Shell to base ships at Terminal 5 in Seattle.

It is highly unlikely the greens’ latest legal action will be heard before Shell’s Arctic fleet is in place and drilling. Its two drilling rigs, the Polar Pioneer and Noble Discoverer are slated to leave Puget Sound in about a month.

On the home front . . .

Avaaz, an international group working the climate-change issue, commissioned a poll of Seattle voters. Done by John Wybe of Winpower Strategies, it asked voters a decidedly slanted question:

“Shell Oil is using the Port of Seattle to prepare to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean. The drilling would create significant global-warming pollution and the chance of a spill is 75 percent. Given these facts, should the Port reconsider its lease to allow Shell and contractor Foss to use the Port?”

Amazingly, given the wording, the result was a near-dead heat.

Fifty-two percent said “Yes” and 48 percent said “No.”

Once primed, voters were asked whether they would be more likely to support a Seattle Port Commission candidate who supports or opposes the Shell lease.

Forty-one percent opted for a lease supporter, 58 percent for a lease opponent.

The results did deliver a 58 percent pro-reconsider vote in Seattle. But King County voters said no — despite the wording of the question. (The poll reached 563 voters.)

“Everybody knows that the people of Seattle oppose Shell’s occupation of their port for their climate-killing Arctic escapade — now we know how strongly,” David Sievers of Avaaz said in a statement.

The assertion is highly questionable.

The prospect of oil drilling in the Arctic and Shell’s record of mishaps, fines, and subcontractor felonies in 2012 have- aroused passionate opposition among environmental activists and Seattle’s protest community.

But the $32 million Terminal 5 lease is also supporting family-wage jobs (not mentioned in the Winpower Poll), and is supported by the Seattle maritime community and maritime unions.

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