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Return to the Salish Sea: Spill Map Program Manager Ross Dixon

The prospect of a major oil spill is something that has many people concerned about the future of the Salish Sea, especially now that the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion has been approved by Canada.

The line terminates just north of Vancouver, British Columbia. And official documents indicate that its expansion could bring as much as seven times more tanker traffic through the sea. There’s a correlating risk of oil spills that could hit hard in Puget Sound.

To show where the oil might flow, two nonprofits in Canada created something called the Salish Sea Spill Map project. One of them is the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

“It’s really about trying to understand the potential spatial spread of an oil spill in the Salish Sea, in the context of the Kinder Morgan proposal,” says Ross Dixon, a program manager with the Raincoast Conservation Alliance.  "And also as a way to engage a whole different set of the public.”

Together with the Georgia Strait Alliance, they created hundreds of bright yellow 'drift cards,' which are postcard-sized pieces of plywood, labeled with unique numbers and contact information for the Raincoast Alliance.   

“So what we do is basically drop these drift cards, and it carries the message ‘This could be oil,’” Dixon says.

Over the course of four years from 2013 through 2016, they dropped the drift cards more than 40 times, encouraging the public to report back where they landed.  

“Just to give you some sense of how far these things go, we’ve actually found some of these cards which we dropped here in the Salish Sea in Alaska and Haida Gwaii,” Dixon says “This is thousands of kilometers north on the coast.”

The cards were also reported in the Puget Sound region more than once, with several reaching Bainbridge Island, for example, after a drop in the spring of 2014. 

To see pictures and read more about the Salish Sea Driftcard Project, visit our "Return To The Salish Sea" website.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to