Summer drift card drop to study oil spill impacts in the Salish Sea | FRIENDS of the San Juan’s

LUSH Seattle employees volunteer with FRIENDS of San Juans to do a drift card drop to track the effects of an oil spill in the Salish Sea.  - Courtesy photo
LUSH Seattle employees volunteer with FRIENDS of San Juans to do a drift card drop to track the effects of an oil spill in the Salish Sea. 
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Plywood drift cards stamped with “this could be oil” were released this week in an experiment to simulate the dispersion of an oil spill from Kinder Morgan’s planned $5.4 billion pipeline expansion project that would increase tanker traffic from five ships a day to 35 ships per day through the San Juan Islands.  These wooden cards were put into high current areas as part of a scientific study to effectively model the likely path of oil in the event of a major spill.

Stephanie Buffum, executive director of FRIENDS of the San Juan’s, dropped some of the pink cards on Wednesday, Aug. 27 with Seattle area store managers from LUSH, a project sponsor, who relies on seaweed harvested in the Salish Sea for some of their skin care products.  The location of this drop was just off Stuart Island close to where tankers would transit.  Another 200 cards were released in Rosario Strait on Tuesday.

People who find the cards are asked to report the date and location on  Information will help researchers calculate where oil from a spill might end up over what length of time and along what route. The results of the study will help communities allocate resources most efficiently to prepare for a spill.

The latest drops will complement the drops that were carried out by FRIENDS last March. The recovery rate for the spring study is about 57percent. The rest are probably on beaches “stuck in driftwood and biodegrading,” said Buffum.  Cards from that spring drop continue to be reported as more people frequent coastal areas during the summer months.

Although past cards have shown Victoria to be especially vulnerable to a spill along the Kinder Morgan tanker route, some have travelled widely along the coast, including as far South to Bainbridge Island and as far north as Cape Scott off northern Vancouver Island and farther northwest to Haida Gwaii.

FRIENDS of the San Juans is concerned about the impacts an oil spill would have on our economy, boater safety, shorelines and larger marine environment that both people and wildlife depend on in the Salish Sea.  FRIENDS will use the drift card data as they prepare comments related to safety, risks and economic issues to the National Energy Board regarding the Kinder Morgan proposal.

In addition, FRIENDS is commenting on the Shell Refinery in Anacortes, and the BP dock expansion and proposed Gateway Pacific Coal terminal at Cherry Point near Bellingham.

For more information, to see study results, or to report a drift card, please visit

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