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Defending our Shorelines
Land Use
Critical Areas Ordinance Update
Shoreline Master Program Update
Safe Shipping in the Salish Sea
Endangered Species





Safe Shipping in the Salish Sea

"San Juan County is at the center of existing and proposed fossil fuel export projects. We have everything to lose and nothing to gain. It is important that our community stay informed, get involved and be part of the public input process."

- San Olson, FRIENDS' Board President and former Naval Officer


The Issue

Are coal and tar sands a threat?

J2/Granny is the whale pictured.  Estimated to be over 100 years old, she is the eldest whale in the Southern Resident Community.

Strong appetites for coal in Asia and tar sands throughout the world have led resource extraction corporations to seek numerous new outlets on the west coast to ship their products overseas. New coal, tar sands and oil export terminals have been proposed for shorelines in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia.  At peak production, 2,620 new large ships, some the size of the Empire State building, would transit in and out of these terminals through the Salish Sea..  These proposed fossil fuel export terminals, if permitted, would impact our waters, shorelines, climate and the economy that depends on a healthy marine environment.

Coal and the Gateway Pacific Terminal

Islanders arrive on the inter-island ferry to speak out at the Gateway Pacific Terminal scoping hearing in November, 2012.

Coal companies plan to strip mine Powder River Basin coal in Montana and Wyoming and transport it by train to Washington and Oregon, where it would be loaded onto massive cargo ships bound for Asia. The Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) at Cherry Point, near Bellingham, is the closest terminal to San Juan County.  GPT could ship up to 48 million metric tons (MMT) of coal every year to Asia. These ships would pass through our waters increasing the threats of collisions and oil spills. Burning this coal would create 96 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2 ) every year and would more than double our state’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions (of 76.64 MMT).  Sending coal to Asia also conflicts with Washington State’s efforts to set progressive greenhouse gas emission reduction policies.

FRIENDS has been engaging the community in the GPT public input process for over two years now – and lots has happened!  During an initial comment period, agencies received over 124,000 comments, including 450 directly from Islanders who voiced their concerns in person at the Friday Harbor scoping hearing.  Many requested a study of the full impacts of the coal export program – from Montana’s mines, along the rails and through our waters, to Asian markets and the associated CO2 emissions.  Click here to see FRIENDS’ comment letter and appendices.


Tar Sands

On July 25, 2010, 1.2 million gallons of tar sands spewed out of an Enbridge oil pipeline, contaminating Michigan’s Kalamazoo River with toxic pollutants, killing wildlife, and causing unprecedented and irreparable damage. The clean-up is still ongoing, with a price tag nearing $700 million. Tar sands are still found throughout hundreds of acres of the watershed.  We don’t want to see this happen in the Salish Sea.

Now three years later, Kinder Morgan is proposing to nearly triple the capacity of its Trans Mountain pipeline, which already spans 714 miles from Alberta’s tar sands to British Columbia’s coast.  It would increase tanker traffic in the Salish Sea by more than 400 giant ships per year. Click here to see possible oil spill scenarios from Kinder Morgan's application.

Enbridge is proposing to build two pipelines (730 miles) from Alberta's tar sands to the coast at Kitimat, BC.Over 225 new oil tankers could pass through the Salish Sea annually, shipping tar sands, with no up-grading or refining, to Asian markets.

A tar sands spill is much more difficult to clean up than the already challenging spill of conventional oil (think Exxon Valdez oil spill).  Conventional oil floats initially on the water’s surface, but diluted bitumen tar sands is heavier than crude and sinks below the surface, making oil cleanup equipment like booms and skimmers useless.

Click here to see a map created by Sierra Club BC that shows the end of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, the U.S. portions as well as the refineries, the tanker routes through the Salish Sea, the First Nations along the route, anchorages, and critical habitat for the Southern Resident Killer Whales.


Tar Sands by Rail then Ships

Since 2012, nearly a dozen plans have emerged to ship crude oil by train to Northwest refineries and port terminals.

Oil-by-rail ships to two of the region’s five refineries in the Salish Sea - and the other three are planning new facilities. Three proposals for Grays Harbor would move oil along the Washington coast.  Currently in Oregon and Washington, 11 refineries and port terminals are planning, building, or already operating oil-by-rail shipments.

If all of the proposed projects were built and operated at full capacity, they would add an estimated 20 mile-long trains per day on the Northwest’s railway system. Many worry about the risk of oil spills from thousands of loaded oil trains along our shorelines.

The projects are designed to transport fuel from the Bakken oil formation in North Dakota, but the infrastructure could also be used to export Canadian tar sands oil. If all of the oil-by-rail projects were built, they would be capable of moving 720,000 barrels per day—that’s more oil capacity than either of the controversial pipelines planned in British Columbia.

Click here to see FRIENDS' comment letter on the Tesoro Savage crude-by-rail export terminal in Vancouver, WA.


Our Economy is at Risk

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation supports 115,000 jobs and contributes $11.7 billion to Washington State’s economy.  In San Juan County alone, tourism was projected to generate over $158 million dollars in spending and 1,850 jobs in 2012.  The economic benefit of fossil fuel export is the main argument behind building export infrastructure, but it is also important to consider how many jobs could be negatively impacted by this industry.


Drift Card Study

Kinder Morgan plans to ship 400 tankers loaded with tar sands oil each year through the Salish Sea. If the oil spilled, where would it go, and what iconic and ecologically important places could be affected?

FRIENDS is part of a research project to better understand the path an oil spill might take, and how far the oil could travel.

Report a drift card that you’ve found. Or explore the rest of the Salish Sea Spill Map website to learn more.

Listen to the the story from Free Speech Radio News.


Jennifer and Steve from Victoria finding the first drift card on March 25, 2014.


Safe Shipping Program

In an effort to ensure adverse maritime impacts don't compromise the Salish Sea's marine environment and economic integrity, FRIENDS established a Safe Shipping Program and is a founding member of the Safe Shipping Alliance of the Salish Sea. We seek to inform the public of major changes in maritime trade impacts, engage citizens in commenting opportunities and generate cross-border political support for increased shipping safety standards.

Part of FRIENDS Safe Shipping program includes membership in the San Juans Alliance, a collective group of islanders working together to voice our concerns over increased shipping from proposed coal export terminals and expansion of nearby crude refineries.  Activities include submitting in-depth comments for both the Gateway Pacific (Cherry Point, WA) and Millennium Bulk (Longview, WA) coal terminals, participating in hearings, community talks and events.

Stephanie Buffum signs the International Treaty to Protect the Sacred with Chief Phil Lane of the Ihanktonwan Dakota and Chicksaw Nations in March, 2013.  Photo by Paul Anderson.

FRIENDS collaborates with First Nations tribes, U.S. tribes and Canadian and American non-profit organizations on safe shipping issues.  To kick off this working group, FRIENDS hosted a meeting in Vancouver in March 2013.  Attendees signed the International Treaty to Protect the Sacred from Tar Sands Projects, joining in solidarity with sovereign Indigenous Nations, tribes, and governments.  To view this Treaty visit

So far this story shows the power of advocacy as plans for four of the original six coal export terminals have be stopped.  Also, the B.C. government recently expressed its opposition to the proposed Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline project, saying it fails to address the province's environmental concerns; this doesn’t mean this project is dead, but it is a step forward. 

FRIENDS will continue to work with our volunteers and partner organizations on this issue. You can also join with volunteers involved in the Orcas and Lopez NOCOALitions along with San Juan Islanders for Safe Shipping.  These groups are dedicated to bringing awareness to our community about the impacts of coal export. 

It is through all of our collective efforts that we will defend the Salish Sea and its inhabitants from the threats of oil spills and global climate change. We welcome your involvement and support!


Take action! 

Community members gather at a "No Coal" rally at FRIENDS' annual meeting in September, 2012.

1. Stand with the Lummi Nation. On January 5, The Lummi Nation formally requested that the US Army Corps of Engineers deny a permit to build the Gateway Pacific Coal Terminal because the impacts to tribal fishing cannot be mitigated.  Show your support of the Lummi's efforts to keep dirty, dangerous coal exports out of our waters. Write your Senators and your Member of Congress today and ask them to support the protection of the Lummi Nation’s treaty rights.

2.Sign the Save the Salish Sea pledge.  You’ll be adding your voice to the growing community of Salish Sea champions on both sides of the border who are taking action to stop new fossil fuel projects in their tracks.

3. Click here to see a handout created by the San Juans Alliance that includes information about what you can do to help protect the San Juans from an oil spill.

4. Stay engaged and informed!  Click here to receive email updates and action alerts from FRIENDS about fossil fuel export in the Salish Sea.

5. Take action at home to reverse the demand for coal and other fossil fuels.  Drive less, bike or walk more.  Turn off lights and other things with switches when not in use.  Buy less, reuse more.  Click here for more ideas.

Additional Information:

Salish Sea Vessel Traffic Risk Assessment (VTRA 2010) Update (Prepared by George Washington University and Virginia Commonwealth University for the Makah Tribe)

See Gary Shigenaka, a marine biologist for NOAA, talk about oil spill risks in San Juan County (from his talk at the San Juan Island Grange in Friday Harbor on March 16, 2014).


Click here to see the full Salish Sea: In Danger infographic and learn about the interconnectivity of the Salish Sea and how increased shipping traffic and a major spill could devastate our environment and our economy.

Click here to see the full Gateway to Extinction infographic and learn about the unprecedented increase in rail and ocean vessel transport of fossil fuels through the Pacific Northwest.

The Salish Sea Imperiled: A Community Response to Increased Coal Transport Around the San Juan IslandsA White Paper written by the San Juans Alliance

FRIENDS' Scoping Comment Letter and Appendices for the Gateway Pacific Terminal

San Juan Alliance's Scoping Comment Letter for the Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview EIS


United States/Regional:

Climate Solutions

Coal Train Facts

Gateway Pacific Terminal Project Website

Lopez NO COALiton

Orcas NO COALiton

Power Past Coal

RE Sources for Sustainable Communites

Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign

Sovereignty and Treaty Protection for the Lummi Nation

Washington Department of Ecology

Whatcom County Department of Planning - Gateway Terminal Project


Dogwood Initiative

Forest Ethics (U.S. and BC)

Georgia Strait Alliance

Raincoast Conservation Foundation

Sierra Club BC

Tar Sands Free BC

Voters Taking Action on Climate Change

Wilderness Committee


PO Box 1344, Friday Harbor, WA 98250 Phone: (360) 378-2319, Fax: (360) 378-2324 © 2013


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