Shell's Polar Pioneer rig juts out into the West Waterway of Seattle's Duwamish River.
KUOW.org By John Ryan May 22, 2015
State officials said Friday that it's unconstitutional for Shell Oil to store its Arctic drilling rig at the Port of Seattle's Terminal 5.
The Washington Department of Natural Resources sent a letter to Shell Friday, informing the energy giant that short-term mooring of Shell's Polar Pioneer rig at the Port is fine.
But the state constitution prohibits long-term mooring outside of harbors.
The Polar Pioneer, a massive floating platform 400 feet long and 292 feet wide, is more than twice as wide as the official harbor area at Terminal 5, where it arrived last week. And for most of Terminal 5's length, its 130-foot-wide harbor area is completely covered by a dock that extends over the water and the state-owned land beneath it.
The Polar Pioneer juts out into the West Waterway of the Duwamish River, where long-term private use is forbidden by the state constitution. ("The state shall never give, sell or lease to any private person, corporation or association any rights whatever in the waters beyond such harbor lines," Article XV reads.)
"A ship could moor long-term inside the harbor line but not outside the harbor line," DNR spokesman Joe Smillie said. "The state constitution is pretty explicit in forbidding the state from giving, selling or leasing the rights to use the waters outside harbor lines for long-term moorage or other commercial uses."
Smillie said DNR determines what constitutes "long-term" on a case-by-case basis.
The DNR letter asked Shell how long it plans to keep its rig at Terminal 5 and requested an answer by June 1.
Shell has planned to keep its two Arctic drilling rigs at the Port of Seattle except during a brief drilling season in the fleeting Arctic summer.
In an email, Shell Oil spokesman Curtis Smith said the company just received the DNR letter and is reviewing it.
Smillie said DNR had no input into the lease that brought the Polar Pioneer to the port last week. He said the agency received no information earlier this year from the Port of Seattle or Foss Maritime,
Shell's local contractor, as they were negotiating the lease.
DNR started looking into the Polar Pioneer's occupancy of state-owned aquatic lands this week after Arctic drilling protesters got into trouble with their own vessel, a barge they call "The People's Platform" or the "Solar Pioneer."