Protesters greet Shell’s drilling rig as it docks in Seattle

Polar Pioneer arriving in Seattle. (Image: Youtube screenshot)
Polar Pioneer arriving in Seattle. (Image: Youtube screenshot)


“Oil battle in Seattle”, this is how recent developments surrounding a Shell-operated oil rig and protests over its deployment at the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5, have been described by KING 5 News.

The controversial offshore oil rig operated by Shell, and destined to drill for oil in the icy waters of the Chukchi Sea in Alaska, reached the Port of Seattle on Thursday. In the port, the rig is expected to load goods and equipment needed for its Arctic operations. The rig docked at the port despite the opposition from the city officials.

Namely, the city council has earlier this week adopted a resolution urging the Port of Seattle to reconsider its lease at Terminal 5, leased by Foss Maritime, to host Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs.

“The action also officially put the City of Seattle on record in opposing federal permits and leases relating to Arctic drilling,” the council said in a statement two days prior to the rig’s arrival.


Below is a timelapse of the rig’s arrival as shared by cheatoftown Youtube user:




Upon its arrival, the Polar Pioneer rig was greeted by protesters in a fleet of kayaks, wearing signs with messages against Arctic drilling.

According to King 5, hundreds of ‘kayaktivists’ are expected to gather in front of the rig on Saturday, protesting against Shell’s Arctic drilling plans. The Port of Seattle itself has said it expects further protests.

“Protests are expected on land and water near Terminal 5 through early June. The Port of Seattle supports the right of people to express their opinions and is working to accommodate lawful assembly and protest.

We must maintain public safety and work to protect people, facilities, and vessels. The Port and its partners are committed to ensuring the safe and efficient flow of commerce throughout the harbor,” reads a statement on the port’s website.

Shell plans to spend $1 billion dollars for its drilling campaign in Alaska this summer, hoping to uncover what are believed to be vast oil reserves under the seabed of the Chukchi Sea. While Alaska’s senator Lisa Murkowski likes the idea, environmentalists have described the company’s Arctic drilling plans as dangerous and potentially devastating for the Arctic wildlife.

Murkowski last week said: “With an estimated 25 percent of the world’s undiscovered conventional oil and gas resources and active exploration by countries like Russia, it’s critical that we move forward as a nation and set the standard for responsible development in the Arctic.”

However, Earthjustice had this to say: “Allowing reckless oil and gas development not only puts the fragile and irreplaceable Arctic Ocean at risk of devastating oil spills, but also threatens to worsen climate change, undermine national climate goals, and further stress the dramatically changing region”   


Two drilling units


Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) gave its approval for Shell’s offshore Alaska multi-year exploration plan. The above mentioned Polar Pioneer rig is the first of two rigs Shell is planning to use for its Burger licence drilling in Alaska. 

The other, the Noble Discoverer drillship, has docked in the nearby Port of Everett to „unload/load some cargo“, a statement on the port’s website says. According to twitter data, the Noble Discoverer was also welcomed by protesters:

Shell plans to carry out drilling operations with both units, each vessel providing relief-well capability for the other. The two drilling units and their supporting vessels will depart the Chukchi Sea at the conclusion of each exploration drilling season.


Legal wrangle

Prior to the arrival in Seattle, the Polar Pioneer the rig had spent a month in the Port of Angeles, as the Seattle Department of Planning & Development found that repairing and mooring Shell’s rigs at Terminal 5 was not in line with the existing permit for container operations, Foss Maritime has at the site. Foss Maritime, which has a contract with Shell to host the rigs in the Terminal 5, appealed DPD’s ruling.

The planning and development department has concluded that an additional use permit is required for the proposed seasonal moorage of the Transocean-owned Polar Pioneer drilling rig and accompanying tugboats, as the terminal is registered as a cargo terminal, not intended for offshore drilling rigs and equipment.

Even the Port of Seattle council itself had asked that the arrival of the rigs be delayed until the legal ramifications have been reviewed.

While it is unclear if the new permits have been granted, what is clear is that the rig is now in Seattle whether somebody likes it or not. Also, it is yet to be seen if and when the other rig, the Noble Discoverer, will reach Seattle too.

See below a comprehensive report of the rig’s arrival as reported by King 5 news.

Offshore Energy Today Staff

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