If built, this Canadian pipeline project would increase the marine traffic by more than 400 tankers per year. This poses unacceptable risks to our Sound.

Share story

Puget Sound has been in trouble for years. Now things could get a whole lot worse.

Tribes, environmental advocates and elected leaders have been arguing for years that Puget Sound is in need of far more organized, coordinated help and more funding. As one of the largest estuaries in the country and an important economic and recreational asset, this threatened icon may finally be getting some of that support, with last year’s announcement of some $800 million in federal, state and tribal dollars — assuming it survives the Trump budget process — to be used to attack the problems plaguing the Sound.

But now there is a new threat on the horizon. President Donald Trump has a like-minded ally in Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when it comes to building new pipelines. The Canadian Prime minister approved the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline — and this is the pipeline all of us in the Pacific Northwest should be the most concerned about.

If built, this project could bring 890,000 barrels of tar sands diluted bitumen to the Pacific Coast, most of which would be loaded onto tankers near Vancouver, B.C., and travel through Haro Strait, passing between Vancouver Island and the San Juan Islands, at an increased rate of more than 400 tankers per year. This poses unacceptable risks to our Sound.

This isn’t the conventional oil we saw spilled in Alaska by Exxon Valdez or in the Gulf by Deepwater Horizon. This oil is even worse. The National Academy of Science published the most comprehensive study of the impacts of tar sands diluted bitumen, and they concluded this dirty, heavy oil sinks and cannot be effectively recaptured. Best estimates for conventional crude are that only a fraction can be retrieved from ocean waters in the event of a spill, in ideal conditions. How will our salmon and our orcas survive an oil spill that can’t even be partially cleaned up? How will tourism, a growing part of our economy, survive?

With this increased volume of tanker traffic, the risk of a marine oil spill during the life of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is as high as 67 percent, according to the Globe and Mail, Canada’s paper of record.

Yet even in the best-case scenario, where no spill occurs, the southern resident orcas are at serious risk of extinction from this project. These whales use echolocation to feed, communicate and mate. Scientists predict the noise disruption alone from these daily tankers would further threaten the endangered species.

And what about the salmon? Does the Canadian government have the right to allow Kinder Morgan to put Canadian and U.S. tribal fishing rights at risk? A spill could devastate our fisheries, and so far Gov. Jay Inslee and most of Washington’s political leaders have been silent in the face of this threat by failing to speak out and take action in explicit opposition to this project. We found out recently what happens when Washington is asleep at the wheel on salmon farming — this is an even greater danger to the Sound.

But it is not too late to stop this.

A similar pipeline in Canada — the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline — was granted a permit more than two years ago. After a series of lawsuits and public protests, the government announced it will not challenge the court decision to cancel that project’s permits. The pipeline was defeated.

There are already 18 lawsuits against Kinder Morgan, and major resistance brewing from cities and citizens in British Columbia. Imagine the Standing Rock resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline in the middle of a city — a Seattle-WTO type of protest that could last for months or years. That is what’s happening in Vancouver.

The Kinder Morgan pipeline is a major threat to our climate — and to our home. The Standing Rock Sioux said it best, and it is no less true here in the great Pacific Northwest: Water is Life. Do you disagree, Gov. Inslee?