Oil Spill Prevention

Oil Spill Prevention

Protection against a major and catastrophic oil spill is the highest environmental priority for San Juan County.

San Juan County lies in the middle of the Salish Sea surrounded on all sides by major shipping lanes. 

 This risk of a major oil spill is of huge concern to the County. It was identified as highest ranking threat to marine biodiversity in the 2007 Marine Stewardship Area Plan and was again identified as a top threat at the 2020 and 2023 Marine Managers Workshops. 

The MRC works closely with the County and local non-profit organizations to further efforts towards oil spill prevention. 


In 2016, the San Juan MRC submitted a Near Term Action proposal for a comprehensive Oil Spill Risk Consequences Assessment. In early 2018 the San Juan Local Integrating Organization (LIO) selected the Near Term Action proposal for locally-directed $100,000 funding. San Juan County, on behalf of the MRC contracted with economic consultants to perform an Oil Spills Consequences Assessment for San Juan County (Earth Economics) and to evaluate the cost of an emergency response towing vessel (ERTV, Northern Economics). 

The San Juan Ecosystem Protection and Recovery Plan identifies investment in an ERTV to reduce the risk of a spill at Boundary Pass/Haro Strait on the north and west sides of San Juan County as a priority risk mitigation measure. Such actions have also been recommended by the Governor's Southern Resident Orca Task Force, the Department of Ecology's 2016 Salish Sea Workshop, and Puget Sound Partnership Ecosystem Coordination Board and Leadership Council. 

Click here to learn more about these studies and their findings


Photo Courtesy of US Coast Guard

Sinking of the Aleutian Isle

2022 was marked by the sinking of the FV Aleutian Isle in Haro Strait. After the boat sank on Aug. 13, the vessel eventually settled to a depth of ~240 feet off the west coast of San Juan Island. The boat sank with up to 2,500 gallons of diesel fuel on board and a visible sheen appeared in Haro Strait. Members of the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) J pod were spotted swimming just 5 miles south of the sunken ship, but they thankfully headed west toward the Pacific and away from San Juan Island before encountering the sheen. County staff and MRC members played an important role during, and in the aftermath of this incident participating in shoreline surveys, disseminating information to the public through social media, and hosting the Director of San Juan County Department of Emergency Management for a situation debrief at the September MRC meeting. The MRC also decided to draft a letter to County Council and the incident response team highlighting some of their most important concerns about the response itself to help better prepare our county for similar incidents in the future.

What You Can Do

San Juan County and the MRC encourages those with environmental, economic, social, and cultural interests in the region to engage in the legislative process and related initiatives including the Southern Resident Orca Task Force. Engagement may increase public and political will and inform decisions that protect the San Juan Islands and regional ecosystems, communities, and businesses from the consequences of a large oil spill. 

Rainbow over the San Juan Islands, Phil Green, MRC member

For more information on this work please contact Katie Johnson, Marine Project Coordinator for San Juan County at katiej@sanjuancountywa.gov

Oil Spill Prevention