Friends of the Earth has maintained an active presence in the Pacific Northwest for over 30 years covering a broad range of environmental issues. Our current efforts focus on protecting human health and the marine environment associated with the maritime trade. Vessels, and the ports and refineries in the Northwest that serve them, emit a staggering amount of air, water, and climate pollution, impacting the increasing number of endangered marine species and those who eat from, live and work near, recreate in, or simply care about Puget Sound and its marine environment. The Ports of Seattle and Tacoma comprise the third largest container port complex in the United States. The Port of Vancouver, British Columbia is the largest container port in Canada; equivalent to Seattle and Tacoma combined. Taken together, these ports make the Strait of Juan de Fuca one of the busiest waterways in North America, exposing people and marine life to a variety of risks. In the Northwest, we work to protecting communities, wildlife, and the ecosystem in and around Puget Sound and the Olympic Coast from increased water, air and climate pollution and harm associated with escalating marine traffic and port development.
Vessel traffic in the Salish Sea
“The Salish Sea is home to over 8 million people and is one of the world’s largest and most biologically rich inland seas.
Each year 12,400 large vessels, including over 1,322 oil tankers, charge through our fragile waters, past our communities, and through the homes of the 113 threatened and endangered species who call these waters home. Proposals to increase international shipping by 37% would turn the Salish Sea into a tanker highway, posing potentially catastrophic danger.
Between 1995 and 2005 1,462 accidents and 1,159 incidents were reported in Washington State. Of those, 14 were oil spills from tankers, releasing roughly 13,709 gallons of oil.
Of all these projects, the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline would result in the greatest oil spill risk: a 9-fold (800%) increase of a 20,000 barrel or larger spill over the next ten years in Haro Strait/Boundary Pass” according to a recent vessel traffic risk assessment.
“The Salish Sea Vessel Traffic Projections infographic and the online map shows 20 proposed new, expanded or recently completed projects, which cumulatively would add an additional 4,286 annual vessel transits to and from ports in British Columbia and Washington State.”
Gateway to Extinction: Another Exxon Valdez waiting to happen?
On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker hit the Bligh Reef off the coast of Alaska, releasing more than 11 million gallons of heavy crude oil into the ecosystem. The oil, equivalent in volume to 17 Olympic sized swimming pools, coated 1,300 miles of Alaskan coastline.
More than twenty-five years later, a new infographic by Friends of the Earth and Healthy Planet/Healthy People shows how the completion of currently proposed fossil fuel export terminals and pipeline projects could make the Pacific Northwest — from the San Juan Islands to the Columbia River — a likely next site of another horrible and highly preventable oil spill tragedy.
“Gateway to Extinction,” a detailed map of proposed Northwest fossil fuel exports, shows how the approval of these export projects would significantly increase transport of coal and crude oil by rail and tanker throughout the region, exponentially raising the risk of another Exxon Valdez.
- An additional 3,833 vessels would be added to the Northwest region annually — 1347 ships in Juan de Fuca Strait (21 percent increase), 314 additional ships (383 percent increase) in Grays Harbor, and an additional 2172 ships (153 percent increase) on the Columbia River.
- The proposed tripling of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline alone would result in an additional 350 oil tankers plying the region.
- If all of the coal and oil export terminals are built, it would mean the export of an additional 143 million metric tons of coal annually and 1.7 million barrels of oil per day from the region.
- While the State of Washington has agreed to consider the cumulative environmental impacts of the three coal export terminals under state law, the Obama administration through its Army Corps of Engineers has refused to do the same analysis under federal law. In addition, Washington State has yet to propose a similar cumulative impacts analysis for all of the 10 proposed oil export projects in the region.
- According to the Sightline Institute, if all of the proposed export terminals are approved, the carbon footprint of the fossil fuels would equal five Keystone XL pipelines.
Click here to access a table detailing fossil fuel transport via rail and ship by the numbers.