friends logo
blank blank blank
  • Oystercatchers
  • Cascade FallsOrcas Island
  • Action in ActionHundreds of islanders arriving on the interisland ferry to speak up against coal export. Photo by Kelly Andrews
  • WetlandsFRIENDS efforts work to protect San Juan County's coastal and upland wetlands
  • ShippingA large ship transits through Haro Strait in the fog photo by Chris Teren
  • Why We Live HereLocal kids exploring the San Juans

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 and British Columbia. If all the new and expanding terminal and refinery projects in the Salish Sea are permitted and developed, including projects that became operational in 2014, there would be a 43% increase in large, commercial marine vessel traffic. Click here for the Salish Sea Vessel Traffic Projections informational flyer & map, press release and source document.

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 three 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 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, many 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. 

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

“A major spill would have a significant impact on Washington State’s maritime economy which is worth $30 billion and supports 148,000 jobs.” – Press Release, US Senator Maria Cantwell, 4-9-14

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

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

FRIENDS launched “this could be oil” wooden drift cards in the Salish Sea during 2014. Information from the drift card study will help researchers calculate where oil from a spill might end up over what length of time and along what route. The results of the study will help communities allocate resources most efficiently to prepare for a spill. 

FRIENDS will also use the drift card data as we prepare comments related to safety, risks and economic issues to the National Energy Board regarding the Kinder Morgan proposal. 

For more information, to see study results, or to report a drift card, please And if you find a card, take a selfie and share it with us!

Click here to read an article about the study in the San Juan Journal (October 29, 2014)

Click here to see a video of the Rosario Strait drift card drop from March 2014.

Listen to the a story from Free Speech Radio News.



The Salish Sea Particularly Sensitive Sea Area

To reduce the risks posed by an oil spill from global shipping, FRIENDS is leading a transboundary effort in Washington State and British Columbia to designate the Salish Sea as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) under the auspices of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). With our waterways already crowded and intense increases in international shipping traffic proposed, a PSSA designation can synchronize the Salish Sea’s complex, and often conflicting, domestic and international laws and policy goals.

To achieve a PSSA designation, an area’s ecological, social or cultural resources must be vulnerable to impacts from international shipping. A PSSA designation allows specific measures to control the maritime activities of large international shipping vessels in that area. These measures include implementing best practices for things such as anchorages, routing systems that avoid certain areas, discharge of ballast water, vessel maintenance, and equipment for ships.

In 2014, FRIENDS, with support from the Samish Indian Nation, completed a Feasibility Report to designate the Salish Sea as a PSSA.  In 2015, the Washington Women’s Foundation awarded FRIENDS $100,000 for PSSA work.


Effects of PSSA Designation

A PSSA designation would benefit the wildlife, marine habitat, air quality, and people who live, fish and recreate in the Salish Sea. FRIENDS has engaged with tribes, scientists, government, industry, and non-governmental partners to draft the nomination report that would tailor protections to regional needs. The designation continues to garner strong support.


What you can do to help achieve PSSA Designation:

  • Invite FRIENDS to present PSSA information at speaker’s bureaus, lecture series, house parties, and other speaking engagements.
  • Join FRIENDS to receive the latest information and add your voice to the growing community support for a PSSA.
  • Call or send letters to help inform your elected leaders about the need for PSSA protections.

Learn more here:

PSSA Working Group: Background Paper

PSSA Feasibility Study Report for the Salish Sea

Designating the Salish Sea as a PSSA Informational Booklet


Creating Partnerships

In an effort to ensure adverse maritime impacts don't compromise the Salish Sea's marine environment and economic integrity, FRIENDS established our Safe Shipping Program and is a founding member of the Safe Shipping Alliance of the Salish Sea.

FRIENDS is also a member of 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.  Joint 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, in 2014, the B.C. government 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. And in early 2015, in partnership with five organizations, and represented by Earthjustice, FRIENDS successfully appealed Skagit County’s decision to not require a full environmental review for Shell Oil’s proposal to expand oil-by-rail at its Anacortes refinery.  

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 and oil 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 5,2015 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:

Lush Charity Pot Video - This video,made by one of our supporters, Lush Cosmetics, showcases our Director, Stephanie Buffum talking about vessel traffic in teh Salish Sea.

Salish Sea Vessel Traffic Projections informational flyer, press release, and source document.

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

Evergreen Islands

Gateway Pacific Terminal Project Website

Lopez NO COALiton

Orcas NO COALiton

Power Past Coal

RE Sources for Sustainable Communites

San Juan Islanders for Safe Shipping

Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign

Sightline Institute

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


become a fan on become a fan on follow FRIENDS on Facebook

handcrafted by tif & gif creative