‘Criminalizing protest’: Sheriff’s office in Washington state tracking citizens, giving info to Border Patrol

July 17, 2018

New report reveals people speaking out against Trans Mountain Pipeline are being monitored by Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office

Traditional Lummi and Nooksack Lands (Bellingham, WA) — An investigative report released today by The Intercept, titled “The U.S. and Canada are preparing for a new Standing Rock over the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline“, details how the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office in Washington state — the county that shares a border with British Columbia — is tracking local residents speaking out on social media against the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project and providing that information to a variety of state and federal agencies — including U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the Washington State Patrol, and the Washington State Fusion Center, a counterterrorism center that coordinates with federal, state, and tribal agencies, regional and local law enforcement, and Homeland Security.

Whatcom County is home to the Puget Sound Pipeline spur of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, which splits from the existing pipeline east of Langley, B.C. and runs into four refineries in Whatcom and Skagit counties in Washington state.

In response to the report, environmental organization Stand.earth — which has offices in Bellingham, WA, San Francisco, CA, and Vancouver, BC — issued the following statement:

“This report reveals a larger trend happening across the U.S. and Canada — how law enforcement agencies criminalize peaceful protest by targeting everyday people who speak out to protect their communities, indigenous rights, and the environment. Thanks to a sevenfold increase in tar sands tanker traffic, the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion would be all risk and no reward for Whatcom County and Washington State. When law enforcement agencies buy into the myth that protesters are anything but peaceful, groups like the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office continue to miss the real threats from projects like the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion — tanker spills, pipeline leaks, and climate change — while helping oil companies expand.” -Matt Krogh, Campaign Director, Stand.earth

The story states that before an indigenous-led march and rally on March 10 in Burnaby, BC, the Sheriff’s Office sent an email to these agencies stating that they were “tracking the event for a few weeks now” and were concerned over a threat to Whatcom County related to “where these travelers might land if they are denied entry to Canada.” 

The latest report comes just one year after the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office worked with the Department of Justice to file a separate search warrant to obtain information from a Facebook page related to a local protest over the Dakota Access Pipeline. 

These are not the first incidents of law enforcement and government agencies tracking information potentially related to the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project. In May 2018, documents provided by Kinder Morgan in B.C. Supreme Court demonstrated that private investigators were used to infiltrate protest at the Kinder Morgan tank farm in Burnaby, BC. And in June 2018, Canada’s National Energy Board — the federal regulator responsible for pipelines — announced it was seeking an outside company to monitor traditional media and social media in real time to detect security risks, while claiming the request was not to track any specific project.


In May 2018, the Canadian federal government announced it would buy out the existing Trans Mountain Pipeline and the expansion project from Kinder Morgan Canada. That purchase includes the existing Puget Sound Pipeline spur.

Washington state and British Columbia residents opposed to the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project cite the climate and health impacts of tar sands, the oil spill risk from the sevenfold increase in tanker traffic in the Salish Sea, and threats to the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. If built as planned, the pipeline expansion would triple the volume of tar sands traveling by pipeline from Alberta’s tar sands to Burnaby, B.C., and then exported through the Salish Sea by tanker. 

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has spoken out against the pipeline expansion over oil spill and tanker concerns. Recently, 79 elected leaders (including 29 state legislators) who are part of the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance (SELA) sent a letter to BC Premier John Horgan to show solidarity with opposition to the project.


Media contacts: 

Virginia Cleaveland, Press Secretary, virginia@stand.earth, 510-858-9902
Matt Krogh, Extreme Oil Campaign Director, matt@stand.earth, 360-820-2938