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Oil Issues Front and Center This Week in Washington

PHOTO: An aerial view of Terminal Five at the Port of Seattle shows the location at the heart of a lawsuit filed on Monday to stop oil drilling ships from being docked and repaired in Puget Sound. Photo courtesy of the Port of Seattle.
PHOTO: An aerial view of Terminal Five at the Port of Seattle shows the location at the heart of a lawsuit filed on Monday to stop oil drilling ships from being docked and repaired in Puget Sound. Photo courtesy of the Port of Seattle.
March 3, 2015

SEATTLE - It's turning out to be a big week for oil transport issues in Washington.

On Monday, four conservation groups filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court, challenging the Port of Seattle's decision to allow oil drilling ships to be housed and repaired at the port's Terminal Five.

Becky Kelley, president of the Washington Environmental Council, says the concern is with a lease negotiated by the port with Shell Oil contractor Foss Maritime Company. The coalition contends the lease needed greater public review, because it would effectively change the use of the terminal.

"It was a container terminal, where they were putting closed containers on ships," says Kelley. "This new lease is for these enormous drill rigs to be moored at the terminal. That's different."

Port commissioners took some public comment on the lease, but the suit alleges it wasn't enough. In other areas where the oil ships are repaired, water pollution has been a problem. Shell has received federal criticism for inadequate oversight of its Arctic drilling contractors. The lawsuit asks port commissioners to vacate the lease.

Also on Monday, the Washington Department of Ecology handed legislators its final report on oil shipping in the state by water and rail, with recommendations on improving safety and emergency response.

The agency says the state may have limited authority to restrict oil shipments. But Rebecca Ponzio, the Washington Environmental Council's oil campaign director, says that doesn't mean the state is powerless.

"The state can certainly weigh in on financial responsibility for the stuff that is coming to our state, on what information is disclosed and available to the public, and on spill response and preparedness," Ponzio says.

The report comes as lawmakers are considering two different approaches to oil transport issues. HB 1449 in the House and SB 5087 in the Senate are backed by the governor. SB 5057 is an alternative in the Senate backed by the oil industry.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA