Now that Royal Dutch Shell has concluded drilling operations in the Arctic with the approach of winter and having failed to discover sufficient oil reserves at the first drill site, the gigantic ocean going drill rig Polar Pioneer is back in more hospitable waters. Given all of the annoyances caused by environmental activists and eco-terrorists when she was leaving Seattle this spring it seems rather amazing that they would go back there, but following a ruling by the city hearing examiner yesterday it sounds like that’s exactly what’s going to happen. (Seattle Times)

A city hearing examiner cleared the way for that possibility Wednesday by ruling that using the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5 to home-port the Polar Pioneer and its support vessels was a permissible cargo-terminal use.

Deputy Hearing Examiner Anne Watanabe said the city’s attempt to require a new land-use permit relied on “inaccurate and incomplete” characterizations of the work to be done.

Foss Maritime, which leased the terminal for two years to service Shell’s huge Polar Pioneer oil rig and related ships, said it is “awaiting decisions on which vessels will be returning to Puget Sound and where they will be moored.”

It’s nice that the Hearing Examiner has found the original complaint to be invalid since it was little more than an organized effort by the city to push their politics down Shell’s throat in the first place. Demanding that the company obtain a different land-use permit to dock an ocean going vessel in a harbor designed to dock and service ocean going vessels was pretty dubious to say the least. But if that’s the thanks they get from the city for bringing their business there, why return when there are numerous other options? The Mayor made it pretty clear that they are not appreciative of their very large customer.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said he was disappointed in Wednesday’s ruling. But he added in a statement that “Now is the time for us to come together to collaborate on new projects to support the growth of maritime jobs while protecting our natural environment.”

So the Mayor is “disappointed’ in the decision but now he’ll just suck it up and “support the growth of maritime jobs” for his city? You may recall that the city played host to a swarm of protesters in kayaks who tried to block the Polar Pioneer’s exit last time they were there. The police didn’t exactly go out of their way to rush and clear the channel for Shell either. And when the Mayor talked about protecting the environment in his little speech, someone should have reminded him that those same green minded protesters trashed his harbor and created a hazardous environment for the marine life there.

But if Mayor Murray is taking their side, it’s not as if Shell doesn’t have other opportunities awaiting. On their way north this spring, before arriving in Seattle, the Polar Pioneer docked for 26 days in Port Angeles, just to the south. In less than a month it is estimated that Shell injected more than a million dollars into the local economy.

“The Polar Pioneer was in Port Angeles for 26 days before moving to Seattle.

“In that time, more than 130 workers connected with Shell’s activities purchased hotel rooms, bought meals, rented cars, and spent money with local businesses,” a comment attributed to Nathan West, city community and economic development director. “City officials estimate approximately $1 million was injected into the Port Angeles economy from spending with more than 20 businesses.

“Businesses affected included local clothing stores, restaurants and bars, hardware stores, and water transportation services. “One local business owner with a restaurant reported he had to increase the number of hours worked by employees, saying “We are delivering 150 to 300 lunches per day.”

“Sunset Hardware, a local hardware store, reported “thousands of dollars in sales” for various supplies needed to work on the drill rig,” a comment attributed to a King-5 television report. “A local hotel was able to book 130 rooms for 26 days for a total of 3,380 rented rooms.”

Is Seattle really so fat with cash these days that they can turn their nose up at that kind of business for the entire winter? And it’s not just the Polar Pioneer. There’s a small fleet of ships owned by Shell in the area which are required to support the giant rig. They all need refit work after their bruising trip up to the ice fields and a place to call home until spring.

Seattle’s city government is obviously antagonistic toward Shell and think more of the hippies in their kayaks and nylon tents than they do of an actual paying customer bringing in a windfall of cash. I understand that the company which leased the terminal in Seattle to Shell has a vested interest in keeping them there but this seems like a bridge too far… literally. Shell should take their business where it will be more appreciated and where local officials will have police on hand to deal with the hippies in a swift and definitive fashion. Given the last jobs report this week, the underemployment up and down the coast and long term wage stagnation, I’m willing to bet that there are some other deep draft harbors who would love to welcome them.