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Critics Take Aim At Port Of Seattle's Lease With Shell Oil

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The Port of Seattle will host Shell Oil's Arctic drilling fleet; that would include both ships and drilling rigs. And the lease the port signed earlier this month has caused a stir among some who say the lease goes against the port and city's commitment to green leadership. At a public meeting yesterday, the port commissioners got quite an earful, as Ashley Ahearn reports from member station KUOW in Seattle.

ASHLEY AHEARN, BYLINE: The room was packed when a group of graying ladies who call themselves The Raging Grannies, took the microphone to sing their testimony. Here's a snippet.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEETING)

THE RAGING GRANNIES: (Singing) Not here, not there. We don't want the Shell platform anywhere.

Keep it in the ground.

(APPLAUSE)

AHEARN: Over three hours of testimony, only some of it singing, supporters and opponents of the port's move had their say. Environmentalists said that enabling Arctic drilling will contribute to climate change and continued dependence on fossil fuels. They also raised concerns about Shell's track record in the Arctic. A little over two years ago, a Shell drilling rig known as the Kulluk ran aground on a remote Alaskan island. A coast guard investigation highlighted safety violations and risky behavior leading up to the accident. The Kulluk was bound for Seattle's Vigor shipyards. John Lockwood, a representative of Vigor, told the port commission that the lease is good for Seattle.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEETING)

JOHN LOCKWOOD: Altogether, more than 60 new family wage jobs have been created for this single project. As we used to say back East, that's not chopped liver.

AHEARN: The lease will generate up to $28 million for the port, but it could come at a political cost to the port commissioners who approved it. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and the city council are investigating the commissioner's decision to approve the lease. Environmental groups are suing on the basis that the facility is only permitted for use as a cargo facility. Commissioner John Creighton believes allowing Shell to use Seattle as a homeport is a good idea, even though it's controversial.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEETING)

JOHN CREIGHTON: Despite what has been said today, I'm very proud of the Port of Seattle's environmental record.

AHEARN: Creighton acknowledged that the port needs to better involve the public in its decision-making process, but he and the other commissioners did not rescind the lease. Environmental protesters warned they will go on fighting. For NPR News, I'm Ashley Ahearn in Seattle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.