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Seattle Hearing on Shell’s Arctic Rig Docking: A Clash of Visions

By Dave Harbour -- May 14, 2015

“I have observed natural resource hearings for four decades. Never has such a pervasive, activist, elitist, anti-civilization mentality so pervaded our society as that on display at this hearing.”

Earlier this week, a hearing was held by the Seattle Port Authority about the impending arrival of Shell Oil’s offshore drilling equipment, which needs a docking for its Arctic mission this season. The hearing room was packed past overflow for what turned out to be a five-hour debate.

The result will not stop Shell from arriving at Terminal 5, although four of the five commissioners asked for delays as supported by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. A summary of the testimony from a pro-energy, pro-Alaska perspective follows.

Alaska Witnesses

Many testified. All but one (i.e. a Mat-su area environmentalist who criticized Alaska’s position on natural resource development) represented themselves professionally, presenting actual facts and history relating to the century-old relationship between Seattle and Alaska.

They also carefully briefed the commissioners on the importance of Shell’s exploration, potential sustainability of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) and TAPS’s impact on Washington state jobs and economic impact.

Alaska North Slope (ANS) Native leaders discussed the importance of properly developing oil in concert with subsistence and lifestyle values–and their successful history of working both with the oil industry and the Seattle Seaport.

Here is the testimony of Rick Rogers, Executive Director of Resource Development Council for Alaska  (RDC). He focuses on the economic “ties that bind” Alaska and Seattle together and the importance of the sanctity of contract law. A unique group, RDC represents forestry, commercial fishing, mining and other natural resource interests other than oil and gas.

I was particularly impressed with the calm and effective presentation Alaska State Senate Resources Committee Chairman Cathy Giessel made as first witness.  Her diplomatic but firm recommendation that the Seattle Port respect its agreement to provide dockside support to Shell and its contractor, Foss Maritime, set a positive tone for the whole day–and reflected credit on Alaska’s government.

Another distinguished Alaskan, Paul Fuhs, who spoke as a former mayor and current manager of the North Slope Port Authority. “You need to treat your customers equally. You can’t pick and choose your customers based on political whim. … Once you start this, there is no end to it.” The same news report had this to say about another pro-energy witness:

The most eloquent stay-the-course testimony came from John Hopson Jr., mayor of Wainwright, Alaska. The Inupiaq village is about 70 miles from the locale in the Chukchi Sea where Shell intends to use the Polar Pioneer and Noble Discoverer to drill a half-dozen test wells. ‘We have come off the ice from whaling to speak to you,’ said Hopson. He argued that the Chukchi Sea ‘isn’t just a place of polar bears — it is our home.’  And he argued that Shell’s drilling project will improve life in the village.

Anti Shell, Anti-fossil-fuel Witnesses

Emotional pleas can win debates, but credibility is another thing.

The activist crowd represented several national and international environmentally extreme groups along with well intended but highly emotional local residents who focused on emotional techniques to generate support. Some stood rather than delivering their prepared remarks in the witness box. Some sang an anti-oil song. Some snapped their fingers after their friends testified.

Some held up anti-oil signs as they testified. Some brought children.

Some were foreign national environmentalists advocating more activism. A socialist advocated denying Shell lease space, taxing the company, and using the cash to create “green jobs” to replace all the carbon producing jobs that supposedly would be lost by refusing to allow the Seattle port to service Shell’s fleet.


The hearing should have been a ‘wake-up call’ both for Alaska and the natural resource extraction industries in general. It is apparent that many school teachers from K-12 through University worship at the “Global Warming Altar.” I detected this trend from having carefully listened to the words of local witnesses.

By observation — confirmed by this hearing — I am concerned that the religion of global warming takes no prisoners, does not tolerate debate, demeans and demonizes all opposition, and believes the end justifies all means including violation of laws.

This growing new attitude of intolerant environmental activism seems to have spread like a viral gospel through the neighborhoods and politics of Seattle. One indication of the virility of the environmental gospel is Monday’s action by the Seattle city council. It passed a resolution opposing Seaport services for Shell.  It used embarrassingly flimsy rationales that appeared to reflect much of the same emotional sentiment expressed by the environmental activists on Tuesday.

Religions have in common that they place the state of faith above worldly facts. Let us propose this concept to our own faithful readers:

The gospel of global warming places faith on the fact that historical climatic cycles of warming and cooling are now man-caused, in spite of other evidence.

They have faith that what is man-caused can be man-controlled.

They believe that regardless of whether the rest of the world acts, America should act to eliminate use of fossil fuels in spite of economic, national security or even unintended negative environmental impacts.

And, they are willing to use tax, regulatory and even criminal means to achieve that end.

And, they don’t mind proclaiming that if they can use political pressure to stop Shell from using Seattle port facilities, this will somehow reduce carbon emissions.


But Shell will look for Arctic oil or not, depending on Federal permits.  If they don’t find Arctic oil, the worldwide demand for oil will set a price that will provide the incentive to find it somewhere else…as America, Seattle and Alaska lose jobs and economic growth from our own domestic production.

I have observed natural resource hearings for four decades.  Never has such a pervasive, activist, elitist, anti-civilization mentality so pervaded our society as that on display at this hearing.

If our civilization is to continue, our well-grounded public and private leaders need to wake up and undertake communication programs designed to better articulate the facts of free-enterprise, wealth creation, natural resource development, freedom and history to community members, young and old.

Such a new education movement could well begin in Seattle, anchor tenant of America’s “Left Coast.”

For every new generation of citizens and their elected leaders needs to be reminded of how America became great because of wealth producing natural resources.

Our future generations of citizens also need to be taught how a country’s greatness — and perhaps its existence — can fast disappear without the means to sustain a desirable way of life.


Dave Harbour, publisher of Northern Gas Pipelines, is a former Chairman of the Regulatory Commission of Alaska and a Commissioner Emeritus of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. He is also past Chair of the Alaska Council on Economic Education, former Chair of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, and past President of the American Bald Eagle Foundation.


  1. Ray  

    Michael Crichton pointed out that environmentalism is a religion. When you have faith you don’t need facts. Indeed, faith immunizes you against the facts. If you provide evidence to contradict the environmentalists beliefs, they just become angry but don’t change their beliefs.


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  3. David H Dennis  

    What I find most interesting about this is that the people who actually live in Alaska appear to be all for the drilling, while those outside of the state are against it.

    It seems sensible to me to listen to the local people, who will be impacted both positively and negatively by drilling.

    If an oil spill happens, the activists in their luxury homes far from Alaska are those who will not be impacted in the least. I would bet that most of them have not even visited Alaska!

    The local people will be impacted enormously, and it’s obvious to me that they trust the oil companies to do the right thing if a disastrous spill occurs. From what I can see, every time there has been a significant spill, a geyser of money pours out of the oil companies, and people who have lost have been well-compensated.

    I live in Florida, where tourism is so enormous that an oil spill would be a catastrophe. In Alaska, almost all incomes flow from oil, so reducing oil drilling would be a catastrophe. Naturally, the locals in Florida make a different decision from those in Alaska, and I think both should be respected.

    Insofar as I know, nobody in Seattle would be significantly impacted from oil vessels visiting a commercial port, so I don’t see any reason for their wishes to control. What happens in Alaska should be the responsibility of Alaskans, not people who have never lived in, or even visited, the state.

    [The author loves warm weather and is highly unlikely to ever visit Alaska. Therefore, he truly has “no dog in this hunt” and can speak fairly and impartially.]


  4. Cindy  

    To say global warming is a religion is an insult to many. It is a cult. Western religion uses persuasion and good works to win converts. The cult of global warming uses propaganda, threats, and violence. They also get public schools involved in the indoctrination where religious views have been excluded. That some churches have been fooled into supporting such nonsense only adds to their cultish power.


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