San Juan County is in the crosshairs of the Alberta Tar Sands | Guest Column

San Juan County is in the crosshairs of the Alberta Tar Sands | Guest Column

by Elisabeth Robson

Lopez Island

Many of us know how devastating the Alberta Tar Sands are to the environment and to the climate. The tar sands are a travesty; looking at the photographs of the tar sands the violence inflicted upon the land is obvious. (If you haven’t looked at these photographs, do it now; you need to know what’s happening — just Google “Alberta Tar Sands” and switch to image search.

The tar sands are hundreds of miles away, so they are easy for us to ignore. Well, “easy” is relative; you may have seen the stories about the human rights injustices in the “man camps,” the Fort McMurray wildfires, the oil pipeline spills. You may have seen the stories about how tar sands oil is the most energy-intensive oil on the planet, or heard how a bitumen spill from a tanker ship in the Salish Sea will essentially pave the bottom of the sea like asphalt because bitumen sinks and is unrecoverable. You may have seen the stories about how refining tar sands oil creates highly toxic emissions, including emissions of particulate, metals, benzene, and petroleum coke, leading to health hazards that can affect eyes, skin, the respiratory system and the nervous system.

We can afford to ignore the tar sands no longer. Canada has purchased the Trans Mountain Pipeline from Kinder Morgan (a Texas company) in order to ensure that the pipeline gets built. The new pipeline, which will follow the route of the existing Kinder Morgan pipeline into Vancouver, British Columbia’s port, will increase the shipments of diluted bitumen across the Salish Sea by sevenfold. That’s right, a 700 percent increase in oil shipments through our precious waters.

Canada’s purchase also includes the Puget Sound Pipeline that doglegs from the Trans Mountain Pipeline as it crosses BC, into Cherry Point to the Phillips 66 refinery and into Anacortes to the Tesoro and Shell refineries. Kinder Morgan, the company who will build and run the pipeline on behalf of the government of Canada is considering doubling the capacity of the Puget Sound Pipeline.

The plans for these pipelines will increase production and shipment from Vancouver, Cherry Point and Anacortes from 2.8 million barrels of tar sands oil per day to 4.5 million barrels per day by 2040.

Given that we need to reduce our fossil fuel emissions to zero (globally) by 2050 in order to stay below the 2C guardrail of catastrophic global warming, this seems like an insane thing to do.

Perhaps more importantly for us here in San Juan County, it puts at risk our entire way of life. We depend on a healthy Salish Sea to exist and flourish in this beautiful place, as do the many creatures and plants we share these waters and these islands with. Our businesses depend on a healthy Salish Sea; our enjoyment of life, our ability to live here, our property values, our children’s future, our physical and mental health — everything depends on a healthy Salish Sea.

We must protect our shores from oil, especially bitumen; we must protect our climate from additional CO2 emissions; we must fight this pipeline if we want a future here in San Juan County.

There are many groups working to fight the pipeline. Indigenous groups across British Columbia and Washington state are fighting it; 350Seattle is fighting it; Greenpeace is fighting it; Georgia Strait Alliance is fighting it; Break Free Pacific Northwest is fighting it; Friends of the San Juans is fighting it; Community Rights San Juan Islands — a group recently formed here in the county to recognize Rights of the Salish Sea — is fighting it. Please join us in whatever way you can, in whatever capacity you have. Our future life here in San Juan County depends on all of us fighting this pipeline.

For more information please read the recent in-depth report from the Sightline Institute, a Washington State-based organization, about the pipeline and its implications at