Q&A with the author of ‘Spill’

Imagine that a tanker crashes off Turn Point on Stuart Island; oil is gushing into the waters and a pod of Southern resident orcas are swimming straight into it. An oil spill in San Juan County is the stuff of nightmares for islanders. Fortunately, this time it is fiction. The book “Spill,” written by David Anderson, is an action-packed tale that features local organizations like the Center for Whale Research, Islands Oil Spill Association, The Whale Museum and Orca Network, based out of Whidbey Island. Anderson, a retired veterinarian, served on the board of Orca Network, as well as serving four years as a governor appointee on Washington’s Oil Spill Prevention Task Force. He will have a book reading on Aug. 31, time to be announced, at the San Juan Island Library, in an event co-sponsored by Griffin Bay Books.

Weekly: What inspired you to write this story?

Anderson: When I learned of the plan to triple the size of the Trans-Mountain Pipeline bringing Alberta tar sand crude to Vancouver, resulting in a seven-fold increase of laden tankers traversing the Strait of Georgia… Haro Strait and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, my heart sank. Having spent so much time in that area fishing, I know about the currents, fog, storms, increasing pleasure boat traffic, and how tight some areas are to navigate. I also have a deep-seated appreciation of the area’s beauty… a sensitivity to the plight of the orcas, how a spill would further impact them… how… extra noise from increased large vessel traffic affects their hunting and communication.

… Several Prince William Sound fishermen educated me about how the Exxon Valdez spill devastated the economy, people’s lives, the environment, and how the tragedy is ongoing… People still suffer health effects from cleaning up the oil. (Valdez) happened in clear weather, calm seas, and a 12-mile-wide area, as opposed to the two mile width in parts of Haro Strait… We can’t take that risk here, where conditions are much more conducive to a spill.

Weekly: What do you hope readers take away?

Anderson: That folks will be moved to raise awareness and apply pressure to prevent the increase in tanker traffic. Also, that large spill cleanups are ineffective.

Weekly: What can islanders do to prevent the “inevitability” of a spill?

Anderson: Write to Senators Cantwell and Murray, Governor Inslee and President Obama and urge them to tell Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau it isn’t worth the risk to go forward with the Trans-Mountain Pipeline expansion. Urge Trudeau to keep to the spirit of the promises he made in Paris on climate accords. Talk to friends in Victoria, the Gulf Islands and Vancouver, etc. urging them to lobby their elected officials. I plan on posting an example letter to officials on my website, www.salishtales.com, for folks to copy or use to formulate their own. If pressure isn’t applied, the pipeline will go forward.

Weekly: What was was it like serving on the Oil Spill Prevention Task Force?

Anderson: Quite educational. I learned that industry has made significant strides to minimize chances of a spill, but still more needs to be done. Safety changes mostly happen if pressure is applied to get industry to spend the necessary money. For instance, industry resisted a rescue tug at Neah Bay, pressure brought it about. It’s already made many significant rescues, likely even prevented a spill.

Weekly: What steps would you like to see government take?

Anderson: Stop the Trans-Mountain Pipeline expansion…Enhance vessel traffic monitoring between the U.S. and Canada. Transit only at times of moderate currents. Reduced speeds in fog. Tanker radar can see other boats but, other boats can’t always see the tankers… Build ships that make less noise in the water, this can be done, see documentary Sonic Sea.

Weekly: As a retired veterinarian, what are some impacts of an oil spill on wildlife?

Anderson: The Exxon Valdez… demonstrated that. Millions of birds and thousands of marine mammals died. Herring biomass is still way down. One pod of orcas will go extinct as a direct effect of that spill. Half of the population died in the spill and they have had no calves since. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists have demonstrated one part per billion of poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (oil) in the water causes fatal developmental anomalies during early cell division in salmon and we can assume almost certainly in other species. Pictures of shorelines today in the… area that look “clean” but there is oil just below the surface.

Weekly: Anything other thoughts?

Anderson: There are too many rapidly developing, increasingly economical alternatives to oil and tar sand crude to increase the risk of an oil spill in our precious, sacred Salish Sea… the economy of the area would be devastated with a large spill.