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, 2,000 new large ships, some the size of the Empire State building, would transit in and out of these terminals, many making a round trip 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 a year now – and what a year it’s been! 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.
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.
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 BCthat 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. Moving large quantities of oil by rail would be a major change for the Northwest’s energy economy, but so far the proposals have largely escaped notice.
Oil-by-rail ships at 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.
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.
Safe Shipping Program
Stephanie Buffum signs the International Treaty to Protect the Sacred with Chief Phil Lane of the Ihanktonwan Dakota and Chicksaw Nations. Photo by Paul Anderson.
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.
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 this past March. 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 www.protectthesacred.org.
So far this story shows the power of advocacy as proponents have scrapped plans for three of the original six coal export terminals. 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!
Community members gather at a "No Coal" rally at FRIENDS' annual meeting in September, 2012.
1. Tell the State of Oregon to Say No To Coal Exports.Coal companies are proposing to export 9 million tons of coal each year on barges on the Columbia River from the Port of Morrow, to the Port of St. Helens, then shipping it to Asia. Governor Kitzhaber has the power to stop these projects. Click here and tell him that you’re concerned about the ways coal export would impact our communities, economy and environment.
2. Stay engaged and informed! Click here to receive email updates and action alerts from FRIENDS about fossil fuel export in the Salish Sea.
3. 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.
The Salish Sea Imperiled: A Community Response to Increased Coal Transport Around the San Juan Islands – A 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
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
Forest Ethics (U.S. and BC)
Georgia Strait Alliance
Sierra Club BC
Tar Sands Free BC
Voters Taking Action on Climate Change