25 years ago, the Exxon Valdez hit a reef and leaked oil that covered an area 25 times the size of San Juan County waters, devastating the Alaskan ecology and economy. To this day, the spilled oil still remains in Alaskan soil. Many species and commercial fishing in Prince William Sound have yet to recover fully.
Can such a nightmare happen to us here in the Salish Sea?
Potentially, and the risk is increasing.
Each year 10,000 large ships and tankers traverse the tricky waters surrounding the San Juan islands. As the dirty energy industry races to push our climate to the brink and extract coal out of Montana and Wyoming, Bakken shale oil out of North Dakota and tar sands oil out of Alberta, these fossil fuels destined for export to Asia are unfortunately converging around the Salish Sea. The proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point is just one example; there are many more. The expansion of Trans Mountain pipelines in B.C. alone will add 400 tankers per year.
Whether one believes in statistics or luck, when many massive ships loaded with dangerous fossil fuel cargo try to criss-cross around each other and the 450 islands and rocks that are the San Juan Island archipelago, the situation is like a potential ticking time bomb of Exxon Valdez proportion or possibly worse.
So how prepared are we to handle a major oil spill? Can heavy tar sands oil be contained if it sinks? Who would we call to seek help if spilled oil reaches our favorite beaches or property? Who pays for resulting damages and economic losses?
To help answer these questions, I encourage all to attend a lecture by leading experts on Friday March 14, 7 p.m. at the Lopez Center, and watch the award-winning film “Black Wave: the legacy of the Exxon Valdez” at the Lopez Library on Monday March 24, 7 p.m. Also watch for drift cards simulating oil spills that may drift to you after March 24.
Remember the Exxon Valdez; lest it be repeated.