Stand with San Juan Islands | Reporter’s Notebook

This past weekend was a success for water protectors at the Dakota Acces Pipeline at Standing Rock. The Army Corps of Engineers put a halt to the construction under the local Sioux Nation’s primary water source.

While many people were focusing their attention on the water protectors protesting the pipeline in North Dakota, another pipeline fight has been waging in our own backyard.

Let me start by saying that I am disappointed in Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Once upon a time, this man was a dream leader to those who leaned to the left politically. That was until he went against what nearly everyone on the west coast of the country wanted, and approved the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline. His approval was announced on Nov. 29 and has since caused a lot of backlash from environmentalists throughout the areas surrounding the Salish Sea.

The San Juan Islands will be heavily impacted by the decisions of our neighbors up north. Five tankers a month currently pass through the Salish Sea exporting oil from the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, British Columbia. That number will likely increase to 35 a month due to the approval by the National Energy Board of Canada and now the nation’s Prime Minister to allow the expansion.

“There is no way to mitigate the impacts of the heightened risk of a catastrophic oil spill to U.S. and Canadian waters associated with the increase in oil tankers from approximately once a week to once daily,” Fred Felleman, Northwest consultant for Friends of the Earth, a non-governmental environmental protection agency, told me during an interview earlier this year. “Each of these tankers carries over 25 million gallons of tar sands-derived oil that cannot be recovered once spilled in waters that support many endangered species including the Southern Resident community of Killer Whales and Chinook salmon on which they depend.”

Currently, the pipeline carries 300,000 barrels per day of oil from the oil sands in the Canadian province of Alberta to Burnaby. The expansion will increase the capacity of the pipeline to 890,000 barrels per day. This will, in turn, increase the oil tanker traffic to match the new output.

“This is a distressing decision as the NEB found that it does not need to address the whole issue of spill response, vessel traffic or impacts of noise on the soundscape of the Salish Sea,” said Stephanie Buffum, executive director of Friends of the San Juans, during an interview earlier this year. “These threats would impact the culture, environment and economy of the Salish Sea.”

According to Friends, 91 percent of shipping traffic that passes by our islands is Canadian. The pipeline would increase the probability of a 20,000 barrel or larger oil spill 800 percent ove the next decade. Such a growth in traffic will not only make the potential for a catastrophic oil spill more probable but would negatively impact the Southern resident orca population.

“Friends of the San Juans will continue to push Canadian lawmakers to include the US National Academy of Sciences report on the fate and effects of diluted bitumen, published in December 2015, as well as work to designate the Salish Sea As a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area,” said Buffum during our interview.

Environmental conservation groups from Canada and the U.S. are in agreement that such an incline would mean extinction for the blackfish in our waters. Additionally, an oil spill of unrefined bitumen would be almost impossible to clean with industry standard oil spill cleanup techniques.

Trudeau’s authorization has a caveat that hinges on completion of the 157 conditions laid out by the National Energy Board in its May 2016 approval. Those conditions include emergency preparedness and response; protection of the environment; consultation with those affected by the expansion, including indigenous communities; how the pipeline affects the socio-economics of surrounding communities; safety and integrity of the pipeline; commercial support for the project prior to construction; and financial responsibility. The fifth NEB condition is that construction must begin prior to Sept. 20, 2021 or else its approval will expire unless it is extended by the NEB before then.

Some conservative Canadian politicians say that Trudeau only approved the Kinder Morgan pipeline (while denying another request for a pipeline by a company named Endbridge) because he knew that the line would never be built. That he hopes, like many residents of the area, that the expansion will get so tied up in court that it never makes it to the construction phase.

Several environmentalist organizations are prepared to take their grievances to court. A member of a Vancouver-area Tsleil-Waututh indigenous community, Rueben George, told Bloomberg News that his tribe is prepared to fight the decision. Chris Genovali, executive director for Raincoast Conservation Foundation said the foundation is also ready to take legal action against the project.

Friends will hold four community conversations next week where you can learn more about their effords in island conservation: on Dec. 12 at 10:30 a.m. at the Friends of the San Juans Office in Friday Harbor; Dec. 14 at 12:30 p.m. at the 376 conference room on Orcas; Dec. 14 at Shaw Community Center at 4 p.m.; and Dec. 15 at the Lopez Library at 10:30 a.m.

I encourage locals who have been so valiantly supportive of those in North Dakota to focus on waters closer to home that need protecting. Join local conservationists, environmentalists, indigenous communities and myself in standing up against big oil and telling the Canadian government that the San Juan Islands want #NoTMX.