Kinder Morgan Spur

The next target for tar sands oil: Is it us?


What: Seattle Waterfront March

When: 10 am Sun., May. 20

Where: Occidental Park, 117 S. Washington Street, Seattle


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Could the alternative route for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline be our hometown? I know, it sounded crazy to me too when I first heard about it. But if oil behemoth Kinder Morgan has its way, that’s exactly what we’re now facing.

The City of Burnaby has applied to the Supreme Court of Canada to appeal the construction of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project after lower courts and the National Energy Board rejected its challenge. If that community and the British Columbia provincial government are successful, the pipeline’s alternate route could turn south through Whatcom County.

Currently, the four refineries in Whatcom and Skagit counties receive tar sands oil through a spur off of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, which together with oil trains and tankers from Alaska provide more than enough oil to supply our domestic consumption. But Kinder Morgan, one of the largest energy infrastructure companies in North America, has its eye on global markets, and isn’t afraid to make our community a sacrifice for its export plans.

Kinder Morgan is proposing a massive new expansion of the existing tar sands pipeline—and I mean really massive, nearly a million barrels per day of tar sands oil flowing into our backyard. By comparison, the Keystone XL proposal was 830,000 barrels per day, and the Dakota Access Pipeline disputed at Standing Rock shipped 470,000 barrels per day. So this proposal is larger than both, and, when built, will be the largest tar sands pipeline project on the continent.

What does this mean for our community? Nothing but new risks: We face the threat of oil spills impossible to clean up, climate change impossible to reverse, and the loss of agricultural land impossible to recover. Together, it’s a trifecta of potential devastation, and now is the time to fight back.

When tar sands spilled from a similar pipeline almost 10 years ago in Kalamazoo, Michigan, first responders discovered something unique and terrifying about this type of heavy, asphalt-like oil: It’s basically impossible to clean up. Almost a decade later, the Kalamazoo River and the fish that depend on it are still dealing with the devastation.

And worse yet, vessel traffic projections for the Kinder Morgan project estimate that if it gets built, we’ll be facing an 86 percent chance of a similar disaster—but this time in our Salish Sea.

The threat of this project to our salmon, as well as the Indigenous cultures that depend on them, couldn’t be more real. An oil spill of similar magnitude could poison the water for decades, halting salmon runs and spelling possible extinction for the already critically endangered southern resident orca. Without a realistic plan to clean up the tar sands oil — or really any plan—it’s a risk we can scarcely afford. Indigenous cultures have relied on the salmon runs as sacred for thousands of years, and in the blink of an eye, this way of life could be permanently extinguished beneath a thick coat of tar sands oil.

All this also means that a community that’s already said no to one fossil fuel megaproject after another is again asked to serve as gateway for a massive new climate bomb. The Canadian tar sands, if developed, have been called by expert climate scientists like James Hansen “game over for the climate,” because the potential carbon impact of first digging up and then refining, and burning tar sands oil is so huge. This project alone would mean between 13 to 15 million metric tons of CO2 added to our atmosphere annually, which is like putting 2.7 million more cars on the road every year.

This project asks our community, one that’s already said no to a massive new coal terminal and all of the climate change it represented, to again play host to the fossil fuel industry’s most ambitious expansion agenda. It not only goes against our community’s commitments to reverse climate change while we still can, it positions us as a necessary link in one of the biggest projects to make global warming so much worse.

Finally, the project comes at no small risk to our farming communities and agricultural heritage.

If Kinder Morgan’s plans to build a terminal in Burnaby, BC are successfully blocked, it’s likely an alternative route might be found along the spur to Cherry Point—the last remaining deepwater port on the West Coast and home to two existing oil piers. That could be why Kinder Morgan officials have attempted to meet with members of the Whatcom County Council and our state government. In the way of this alternative, though, are countless farms and communities that would face government-sanctioned foreclosure of valuable farmland for pipeline construction, making an already scarce natural resource even more so. In the case of the Keystone XL pipeline, even generally conservative farmers wary of this risk became some of the project’s most strident opponents—in no small part because their livelihoods and properties were under direct threat.

So what can we do to stop it?

This Sunday, opponents of the pipeline project from all over the region will gather in Seattle for a mass action by land and sea to demonstrate our resistance. We’re specifically calling on Governor Jay Inslee to stand with the leadership of British Columbia in assuring that Washington isn’t a backup route for Kinder Morgan’s scheme. We’ll gather at 10am in Occidental Park (at 117 S. Washington St.), and participate in a March to the Seattle waterfront to meet up with kayaktivists also fighting back against the pipeline.

Join us to put pressure on our governor to be part of the fight: he has the power to require exhaustive oil spill cleanup plans for a project of this size, and by so doing, limit the project’s ability to realize a profit at our expense.

Finally, we’ll also have to continue to support the grassroots and indigenous-led resistance across the border in Canada, where the majority of the pipeline would be built. First Nations there have been litigating the project since at least 2012, and hope to continue to fight back until the tar sands are kept where they belong—in the ground. So the question now comes to us: Will we roll over and let a new Keystone XL happen here? Or will we join together and fight back?

I know what choice I’d make. I hope you will too.
Chiara Rose D’Angelo is the executive director of Students for the Salish Sea, an emerging environmental non-profit led by students with chapters at four colleges throughout the Pacific Northwest. Learn more about their work at

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