Northwest Washington is an epicenter of the oil and gas industry. This presents significant and ongoing environmental stressors and risks to the Salish Sea and local communities. The industry is also a major employer in Whatcom and Skagit counties at our region’s four oil refineries and six methane gas power plants. Our area also serves as a transportation hub for oil and gas both extracted in the U.S. and imported from Canada by barges and tankers, pipelines and trains.
In the face of health and safety risks, the danger of catastrophic oil spills from increased vessel traffic and oil trains, ongoing pollution, our dwindling salmon and orca populations, and the worsening climate crisis that’s hammering Washington communities, it is imperative that we prevent unnecessary impacts from the expansion of dangerous fossil fuels projects in our region.
We must also support energy workers’ demand for a just energy transition that supports employment and a healthy local economy. Efforts to phase out our local demand for fossil-derived energy over time must support local workers.
As a leading voice for the environment, RE Sources works to mobilize our communities for change. We advocate for policies to accelerate the energy transition and strengthen protective standards for development. Working in partnership with organizations throughout the Salish Sea region, we inform the public and decision-makers of project risks — from oil spills, to health and safety concerns to impact on fragile ecosystems.
Now is the time to respond to public support in our region for stronger protections for land, air and water. Energy workers also need assurances of workplace safety and job security in the process. Through collaborations and sound policy, we can secure greater protections for people and the local ecosystems from the hazards of shipping oil, gas and coal through our communities and the Salish Sea. Our goal is to ensure an updated approach to our region’s energy economy, pointing away from a high-risk future of expanding fossil fuel projects and towards a planned clean energy transition that is already underway.
In 2010, RE Sources uncovered a plan to build the largest coal export terminal in North America in Whatcom County at Cherry Point, one of seven terminals proposed in the last decade to ship thermal coal from the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming overseas to Asia, as coal’s domestic demand plummeted.
We helped build a broad coalition across Washington, Oregon, Montana, and British Columbia to resist seven proposed coal export terminals.
All seven terminals were defeated, including Gateway Pacific at Cherry Point in a landmark federal decision to uphold Lummi Nation’s treaty fishing rights in May 2016.
Though Montana coal power plants still supply a large portion of Northwest Washington’s electricity, the Washington legislature passed the Clean Energy Transformation Act in 2019, requiring electric utilities to eliminate coal from our power supply by 2025.
Since then, Whatcom County first placed a temporary moratorium on new fossil fuel transshipment infrastructure at Cherry Point in 2016 until the Whatcom County Council could create lasting legal protections for people and the environment from impacts of fossil fuel projects. Then, in 2021 the Whatcom County Council unanimously passed an ordinance to prohibit ALL new coal, oil and fracked gas shipment terminals and expansion at Cherry Point.
Oil shipments by rail and tanker present a number of environmental and safety impacts and risks to our communities. From 1975 to 2015, a federal ban on crude oil export ensured that oil extracted in the U.S. would be refined in the U.S.
But now with the ban lifted, and Canadian interest in expanding tar sands bitumen export through the Salish Sea, oil expansion proposals are increasing the risk of oil spills and derailments, explosions, fires, and polluting air and waterways.
RE Sources is a leading partner in Stand Up to Oil, a regional coalition addressing the threats of new oil terminals while working to improve safety measures for continuing oil shipments.
(Photo: March Point refineries by David Inscho)