Millions of barrels of tar sands oil barged within the Salish Sea since 2010

Millions of barrels of tar sands oil barged within the Salish Sea since 2010

Proposed expansion of Trans Mountain Pipeline exceeds the capacity of defunct KXL pipeline proposal; will result in 7x more tar sands traffic by tanker

SEATTLE, WASH. — A new report details an alarming increase in barge traffic transporting tar sands oil for refining and export between an oil port near Vancouver, BC and the U.S. Oil refinery in Tacoma, Washington. The Westridge marine oil terminal located in Burnaby, BC is the terminus of the Trans Mountain pipeline that currently carries 300,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen or tar sands oil — or dilbit — from Alberta, Canada for export.

This investigation was prompted by the proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline and the sevenfold increase in tanker traffic exporting tar sands oil through the critical habitat of the endangered community of Southern Resident Killer Whales. The inability to recover spills of tar sands oil with current technology, as reported by the National Academy of Sciences in 2016, led Friends of the Earth to evaluate how much tar sands oil Washington refineries receive by vessel.

“Trans Mountain is the one of the biggest threats to U.S. waters that few people have ever heard of,” said Fred Felleman, Northwest consultant for Friends of the Earth and author of the report. “The expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline poses the greatest risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Salish Sea as compared with the numerous other marine terminal proposals in the region. This project would be the final harpoon in the population of endangered southern resident killer whales.”

The report, released today by Friends of the Earth with the title “Tar Sands/Dilbit Crude Oil Movements Within the Salish Sea,” details the shipments of tar sands within Washington State waters as well as the export of crude oil from the state.  Specifically, it focuses on the barge movements of tar sands crude oil between Burnaby, BC and Tacoma, Washington within the Salish Sea.

“Many people may think that the battle over tar sands exports ended with the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline by the Obama administration,” said Marcie Keever, oceans and vessels program director at Friends of the Earth, “however, this report details that tar sands oil is currently moving over the waters of the Salish Sea, being refined at Washington refineries, and will increase sevenfold if the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion is approved. The threats from this dirty, climate disrupting oil are already apparent in the Northwest.”

Key findings from the report:

  • Washington State is a major refining center where five refineries received 2,117 deliveries of crude oil totaling more than 695,000,000 million barrels over the waters of the Salish Sea between 2010 and 2014. Refineries receive an additional 180,000 bbls/day of crude oil from the Trans Mountain Pipeline as well as lesser amounts by rail that fluctuates with the price of crude.
  • Between 2010 and 2014 more than 10 million barrels of tar sands oil were barged on 132 occasions within the Salish Sea between the terminus of the Trans Mountain Pipeline in Burnaby, BC and the U.S. Oil refinery in Tacoma, WA.
  • The oil barges Commencement Bay and Drakes Bay — each with a capacity of 80,000 barrels — towed by the tug Henry Sause and owned by the Sause Brothers made this day-long trip three times per month during the 5-year study period.
  • The route taken by the Henry Sause was from the Trans Mountain oil terminal south across Georgia Strait and Rosario Strait into Commencement Bay in Puget Sound. Numerous tugs and tows have run into trouble along this route due to the swift currents through Rosario Strait and the lack of maneuverability of tugs with tows leading the U.S. Coast Guard to issue a voluntary Marine Safety Advisory in 2015.
  • The Trans Mountain Pipeline moves approximately 300,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day from the oil fields in Alberta to British Columbia. The proposed expansion would increase the pipeline’s capacity to 890,000 barrels per day of tar sands oil and increase the number of tankers exporting crude oil through the Salish Sea from one per week to one per day.
  • Washington’s refineries exported 9,810,200 barrels of crude oil on 80 occasions between 2010 and 2014. All five of Washington refineries have used their docks as crude oil transshipment terminals enabling crude oil tankers to leave their docks bypassing the refinery. This demonstrates the oil industry’s ability to export crude oil without dock modifications.


  1. Establish tug escort requirements for oil barges, as required in California, especially those transporting dilbit crude oil.
  2. Station an Emergency Response Towing Vessel (ERTV) in the San Juan Islands to prevent and respond to oil spills.
  3. Update Washington State contingency plans to address the challenges of responding to a dilbit crude oil spill.
  4. Oppose the proposed expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline due to its 7-fold increase in dilbit crude oil tanker traffic.

The report and action page can be found at


Expert contacts:
Fred Felleman, NW consultant, (206) 595-3825, [email protected]
Marcie Keever, oceans and vessels program director, (510) 900-3144, (415) 999-3992, [email protected]

Communications contact: Kate Colwell, (202) 222-0744, [email protected]

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