Risk of extinction to local orcas looms with pipeline expansion

  • Tue Aug 14th, 2018 7:00am
  • Life

Submitted by Greenpeace

More trouble is ahead for the already endangered Southern resident orca population currently dealing with the death of the first baby born to the pod in more than three years, details a report by Greenpeace USA. The recently released report documents the risks that the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project poses to Southern resident orcas potentially leading to the pod’s extinction if action isn’t taken.

“This heartbreaking story of a mother’s love for her calf reinforces how special these orcas are,” said Greenpeace USA Field Organizing Manager Ben Smith, a Seattle resident. “Unfortunately, it also reinforces how serious the stakes are for the entire Southern Resident population, which has only produced one new calf in the past three years. We have both the ability and moral responsibility to protect Southern resident orcas from extinction. The survival of the Southern resident orcas is threatened by the toxic Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. This project must be stopped in order to protect the Southern resident orcas.”

The government of Canada, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, recently pledged to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline and expansion project from oil giant Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion after Kinder Morgan abandoned the project and the Canadian government was unable to find another buyer. The expansion project would bring a seven-fold increase in tar sands tanker traffic through the endangered orcas’ critical habitat. Trudeau continues to push the project despite Endangered Species protection being a Federal responsibility under the Canadian Species at Risk Act.

Greenpeace released the report while the Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise, sailed the Salish Sea off the Washington coast near Seattle, Tacoma, Bellingham and the San Juan Islands last month. The ship followed the route that would experience a seven-fold increase in tar sands tanker traffic if the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is completed. While sailing this route, the Arctic Sunrise encountered a pod of orcas in the same area that Kinder Morgan assessed was a high-risk spill region, reaffirming the dangers that the pipeline represents to marine life. This also comes against the backdrop of news that President Trump wants to gut the Endangered Species Act.

The Southern resident orca, of which only 75 remain, is an endangered species whose existence is threatened by the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and the associated increase in tar sands tanker traffic. Not only would an oil spill contaminate the waters in which orcas live, but it threatens the salmon population that they depend on for sustenance. Malnutrition and starvation are significant reasons that the Southern residents are endangered. This problem is exacerbated by the ship noise, which interferes with orcas’ echolocation, the way in which they communicate with one another and hunt for food. Even without an oil spill, the noise alone from the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion’s seven-fold increase in tar sands tanker traffic could mean extinction for these orcas.

Included in Greenpeace USA’s report:

The proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project would increase seven-fold the number of tar sands tankers traveling from Vancouver, Canada, through the Salish Sea and down the Pacific Coast of the United States. The endangered Southern Resident Orca population could be driven toward extinction by the increased ship noise as well as the risk of oil spills and ship strikes resulting from the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

A map and analysis of 176 oil tanker and barge departures from the Westridge Marine Terminal in British Columbia from 2013 to the beginning of 2018 show that more than half (94) of those departures sailed the length of the Pacific Coast to the port of Long Beach, California, with significant numbers heading to destinations in Washington (36), the San Francisco Bay Area (23), and various locations in Asia and Hawaii (17). These results indicate that while the physical pipeline may stop at the water’s edge, a diluted bitumen spill remains a risk for coastal communities all along the Pacific Coast — from British Columbia to Washington to Oregon to California.