Increased vessel traffic in the central Salish sea increases the risk of an oil spill from collision or running aground. This area is home to many forms of marine life, including 22 stocks of threatened Puget Sound Chinook salmon, endangered species such as the Southern Resident Orca Whales, and transiting Frasier River salmon. Just in San Juan County, the annual harvests of fish and shellfish total $36 million annually.
Excerpts in a letter from the San Juan County Council in August 2015 explains:
San Juan Islands National Monument was recently established to protect and maintain historical and culturally significant areas for their unique and varied natural and scientific resources. Many of these protected areas border the shipping routes into and out of the Strait of Juan DeFuca including Turn Point Lighthouse on Stuart Island and Patos Lighthouse, Patos Island, Washington. They have the highest environmental value of any large vessel shipping lanes within the Salish Sea .
San Juan County's economy is highly dependent on tourism, real estate, and construction. These are driven by our relatively pristine environment. An oil spill or fuel spill into the Salish Sea resulting from the project, an oil tanker collision, or other vessel malfunction would have a negative impact on San Juan County's environment, economy and property values.
Spill scenarios conducted on behalf of Kinder Morgan, Vessel Traffic Risk Assessment, and Oil Spill Capacity Study document the high risk of a spill in the region of the main ferry route crossing to Sydney B.C., and Arachne Reef - Turn Point, Stuart Island passage. These areas are also locations rated with the greatest level of navigational complexity for the entire passage. According to these reports, due to the proximity of land, any spill in this area would reach our shores before first responders could arrive on scene to assess or act on the situation. Any spill will cause an economic hardship to mitigate and restore damaged critical habitat areas.
According to the Stantec report:
San Juan County's Islands and the Gulf Islands' shores are not far from the shipping lanes. They do not enjoy the same amount of distance as the Russian bulk carrier vessel Simshur did when it went adrift west of Haida Gwaii waiting for a response from the Canadian Coast Guard in October 2014. If a spill occurs it is not a matter of "if" but "when" oil will reach shore. Our nearshore is home to forage fish such as sand lance, herring, and surf smelt. Our waters and nearshore are dominated by Frazier River system salmon, juveniles going to sea and adults returning. A spill could devastate this system.
Under ideal conditions only 80% of the free oil can be recovered when a full scale response is mustered in 72 hours. The December 2013 Stantec Study prepared for Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC shows a 90% chance of oil hitting land in Roche Harbor within 10 hours of a spill in the Arachne Reef area. Some of the most expensive properties in the State of Washington are in Roche Harbor.