Recent articles and letters about the 25th Anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound might have you wondering why people in the San Juans should care about that old, but tragic event.
It’s because our islands are already at the center of active maritime shipping, and if the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal and expansions of the Canadian Trans-Mountain tar-sands oil pipeline and Delta Port come to pass, they will add 2,600 more vessel trips yearly through our treacherous waterways.
This 26 percent increase in the number of ship passages is significant, but what is alarming is that 816 trips will be supertankers (increasing from 10 to 68 a month) carrying oil derived from the tar-sands of Alberta.
Anacortes refineries already ship tar-sands oil through Rosario Strait. This oil may behave in uncertain ways in our cold, sediment rich, waters where a quantity is likely to sink rendering current cleanup technology ineffective or impossible.
Many safety systems are in place to ensure that nothing like the Exxon Valdez disaster occurs here, but a vessel traffic study soon to be released concludes that the oil spill risk from collisions/groundings, linked to projected increased traffic, increases by 36.9 percent over the 2010 levels of 9.8 percent for Haro Strait/Boundary Pass and by 13.9 percent in eastern Juan de Fuca Strait.
Human error, mechanical failures, weather events, navigational mistakes are all probable as more ships spend more time in our challenging waters. Chances are high that in the unknowable future we will be subjected to an Exxon Valdez size oil spill, or worse.
If you wish to know more about the personal, emotional, economic, and physical impacts of a large oil spill on a community, attend one of the screenings of the documentary “The Black Wave” being shown on San Juan (3/18), Orcas (3/23), and Lopez (3/24).
San Olson, Lopez, member of the San Juans Alliance