More than 14,000 people raise concerns over inadequate oil spill response plan for Puget Sound Pipeline

August 27, 2018

Concerned citizens, environmental groups say plan inadequate, jeopardizes communities and southern resident orcas

Traditional Lummi and Nooksack Lands (FERNDALE, WA) — The Department of Ecology received over 14,000 public comments on the update on an emergency response plan for the 64-year old Puget Sound Pipeline — a segment of the Trans Mountain Pipeline recently bought by the federal government of Canada from Kinder Morgan. The public is increasingly alarmed that this pipeline moves tar sands oil through Whatcom and Skagit counties, that the spill response plan is inadequate for heavy oil like tar sands, that there is a potential for expansion of the pipeline, and that these operations are threatening endangered species including the Southern Resident orcas.  

Spills of tar sands, a type of crude oil that is heavy and potentially sinking, pose a unique risk to local waterways and communities. Recent tar sands spills, including in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, have revealed that existing approaches to oil spill response are insufficient to protects water quality, wildlife and the community. 

Kinder Morgan — the company that owned and operated the Puget Sound Pipeline and the larger Trans Mountain Pipeline for decades until it was purchased recently by the Canadian federal government — has a history of spills. According to Sacred Trust, which is an initiative of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, since the 1960s, Kinder Morgan has not operated for longer than about four years without a spill. This has resulted in approximately 82 spills, including five significant spills in British Columbia.

Environmental organizations working to raise awareness of the threats posed by the Puget Sound Pipeline offered the following statements: 

“The current emergency response plan assumes that all spilled oil will float on water. The Trans Mountain (Puget Sound) Pipeline now carries heavy oil from tar sands that will sink below the water surface, so it can’t be contained by the procedures in this plan. The only way to protect from the devastation of an oil spill is to prevent one, but at the very least our state regulators must require a better plan to prepare for the risks to our rivers and fish that we’re facing from this tar sands pipeline in northwest Washington.” -Eddy Ury, Clean Energy Program Manager at RE Sources for Sustainable Communities in Whatcom County

“A crude oil spill near the Nooksack River or a tar sands tanker accident in the Salish Sea caused by the increased vessel traffic from the expanded Trans Mountain Pipeline would jeopardize the region’s chinook salmon and the 75 remaining Southern Resident orcas. There is no safe way to contain or clean up a tar sands oil spill that sinks in water.” -Alex Ramel, Extreme Oil Field Director at in Whatcom County

“Expanding the Trans Mountain and Puget Sound pipelines poses a serious threat to the survival of the Southern Resident orcas. Oil spills are already an acute danger to the endangered orca population. Expansion of this pipeline system would exacerbate this problem by increasing vessel traffic and noise, while raising the likelihood of future spills and ship strikes.” -Rachel Rye Butler, Tar Sands Campaigner at Greenpeace USA

“Typically, only a small handful of public comments are submitted in these plan updates. The overwhelming participation in this comment period demonstrates the widespread and growing public concern about the risks the Puget Sound Pipeline already poses to local communities and surrounding environments, and an awareness that any expansion of the pipeline would come at an unacceptable cost to the environment and local economy.” -Anna Doty, Fossil Fuel Campaign Manager at Washington Environmental Council and Stand Up to Oil Campaign


Washington State requires the oil industry to develop spill response plans for crude oil transportation, storage, and processing. The Puget Sound Pipeline oil spill response plan is being updated at this time because the pipeline recently changed ownership.

In operation since 1954, the Puget Sound Pipeline crosses the Nooksack River, Sumas River, Samish River, Whatcom Creek, and the Swinomish Channel and carries about 30% of all crude oil shipped into Washington State. The pipeline connects the four refineries in Whatcom and Skagit counties to the larger Trans Mountain Pipeline system that connects British Columbia and Washington state with the tar sands in Northern Alberta. 

A highly controversial proposal to triple the capacity of the Trans Mountain Pipeline is currently under consideration in Canada. If built, the expanded Trans Mountain Pipeline would result in nearly a sevenfold increase in tar sands tanker traffic — 37 additional tankers and barges every month — transporting crude oil through the Salish Sea in waters shared by Washington and British Columbia.

Governor Inslee’s Orca Recovery Task Force meets tomorrow, Tuesday, August 28, in Anacortes, Washington. 


Media contacts:

Alex Ramel, Field Director at, 360-305-5079,

Anna Doty, Fossil Fuel Campaign Manager at Washington Environmental Council and Stand Up To Oil, 650-533-9286,

Eddy Ury, Clean Energy Program Manager at RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, 206-972-2001,