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Seattle Requires New Permit for Shell's Arctic Drill Ship to Moor, but May Not Issue It

05/05/2015 09:32 am ET | Updated May 05, 2016

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A drill ship that Shell intends to use to drill oil wells in Arctic waters off Alaska cannot be moored at the Port of Seattle without a new permit, Seattle city officials said Monday.

The Polar Pioneer drill ship and its accompanying tugboats do not -- for now -- belong at the port's Terminal 5, a site currently devoted to cargo ships, Seattle's Department of Planning and Development said in a finding released Monday.

The port lease held by Shell contractor Foss Maritime covers only cargo operations, not moorage and maintenance of oil rigs and oil-related vessels, the department said in its finding.

For Foss to use its lease to moor the Polar Pioneer and its tugs at the terminal, the port must obtain a new permit, the department said in its findings.

That process could take "several weeks," said Jason Kelly, a spokesman for Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.

The lease Foss holds was intended to allow the company to use the port terminal to moor the Polar Pioneer and its tugs for up to six months of the year, the period when drilling is not occurring.

Shell's reaction to the finding was terse. "We are reviewing the interpretation," the company said in a statement sent by Alaska spokeswoman Megan Baldino.

The Polar Pioneer is one of two drill ships that Shell has contracted to operate in the remote Chukchi Sea off northwestern Alaska. The other drill ship Shell plans to use is the Noble Discoverer.