Rallies against the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline took place on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the San Juans and neighboring islands.
An estimated 400 people attended in total on Lopez, Orcas, Shaw Islands in the San Juans; Guemes and Fidalgo Islands near the mainland; and even Gabriola Island in British Columbia. Friends of the San Juans had representatives on each island, said Executive Director Stephanie Buffum.
The Canadian government approved permits to expand the pipeline right after Christmas, said Buffum, but the fight is not over.
“As long as there is a legal battle to be had, that’s hopeful,” said Buffum. “It’s another day the project is delayed; another day we don’t have diluted bitumen floating in our waters.”
Bitumen is thick oil mined in Alberta, which is diluted so it can flow through pipes to Vancouver. Ships carrying the tar-like oil past the San Juan Islands will increase thanks to the expansion, said Buffum, as well as the possibility of spilling the bitumen. If it spills, part will float to the surface, and part will sink.
In a 2014 Senate hearing, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran said there is technology to recover surface oil spills, but not this sinkable tar sand oil.
About 150 people attended the San Juan Island rally at San Juan County park, where Lummi Tribal members Shirley and Troy spoke.
Liza Michaelson and Mara Lawrence organized the event on San Juan Island through Friends of the San Juans.
Friends is organizing a rally on Feb. 13 in Olympia to support a bill to prevent oil spills off the coast of Washington. If passed, the bill would increase the tax on barrels of oil from 4 to 6.5 cents. Funds garnered by the tax go towards oil spill prevention programs and clean up.
Michaelson said supporters of the bill, like her, will bring cardboard cutouts for each of the Salish Sea’s orcas.
“Our orcas are already an endangered species and our economy depends on keeping the island beautiful,” said Michaelson.
More than 50 people gathered at Eastsound’s rally in Waterfront Park. Speakers included Friends of the San Juans representatives, a Lummi Nation council member and San Juan County Councilman Rick Hughes.
Hughes spoke on how expansion can only cause San Juan County harm in the long run. However, he noted that the council can’t tell another country how to operate.
“The more we can do together, the more we can change,” said Hughes.
About 125 Lopezians attended the Lopez rally at Odlin Park. Some protesters were in sailboats, row boats and kayaks.
“We are not just one effort or one small group of people against the pipeline. We are a localized response to the proposed oil shipment that will hurt our land,” said Kai Sanburn, Lopez coordinator.
To join the Olympia rally to support a bill to increase Washington’s oil spill tax, contact Friends of the San Juans at 378-2319.
Lopezian Chom Greacen and Weekly Editor Mandi Johnson contributed to this article.