Intrepid Price Tags editor Ken Ohrn has reported on Port Metro Vancouver’s cancellation of the permit to expand the Fraser Surrey Docks to ship coal to Asian markets. Thermal coal used to produce electricity represents 75 percent of all coal shipped globally, and the fact that Port Metro Vancouver has not fulfilled the conditions for the Fraser Surrey Docks expansion permit is a good sign. But is Port Metro Vancouver’s cancelling the Fraser Surrey Docks expansion part of the plan to consolidate a push forward for the controversial terminal two (P2) in Delta’s Roberts Bank? Who is overseeing the Port’s expansion plans and do they take in consideration market trends and sustainability?
I have written before about Vancouver’s dirty little secret~since American environmentalists blocked a new export terminal in Oregon, massive coal train shipments come to Vancouver docks, now known as North America’s largest coal port. In fact in 2017 the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority exported 36.8 million tons of coal, compared to 31.5 million tons shipped from its next rival, Norfolk Virginia.
As the National Post’s Tristin Hopper observes “Much of Vancouver’s coal is handled by a single facility that ranks as the largest of its kind on the continent.Westshore Terminals (at Roberts Bank superport) loaded 29 million tonnes of coal in 2017, nearly triple the combined coal exports of the entire U.S. West Coast.”
Coal “is the province’s number one export commodity” worth $3.32 billion in 2016. While the coal mined in British Columbia is mostly metallurgical, Vancouver’s ports ship thermal coal mined in Wyoming and Montana, as Washington and Oregon ports refuse to handle thermal coal because of environmental concerns. The previous Liberal provincial government called for a ban on American thermal coal during a Canadian softwood lumber dispute with the United States, but nothing became of that. From 2008 to 2017, Vancouver’s thermal coal exports doubled to 11.3 million tons, and move tariff free. In fact, Westshore Terminals has produced a little guide suggesting that levies or tariffs on thermal coal would have a bad impact on the province, and that this dirty coal would just be shipped from somewhere else in the world.
Meanwhile Port Metro Vancouver is pushing for Terminal 2 expansion at Roberts Bank which would be a three berth container terminal that threatens the particular biofilm found in these waters that feeds migrating western sandpipers. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has deemed this impact as irreversible and continuous.The port is insisting that container traffic will increase, and this terminal is needed now. This seems to be opposite the thoughts of some industry experts and critics that note that larger more efficient ships will actually decrease traffic, and automation and better documentation will make loading and unloading more seamless.
Both the Tsleil-Waututh and the Lummi First Nations have spoken out against the port expansion, worried that more coal would be coming to the port to be shipped. CBC’s Stephen Quinn interviewed Rueben George, manager of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation’s Sacred Trust who stated that international borders are not important when protecting the environment and the waters that sustain us.
The idea that additional capacity is needed at Roberts Bank is also being questioned locally. In this commentary in the Delta Optimist Roger Emsley states that Vancouver “likes to forget that there are two major container terminals on the West Coast. Prince Rupert has capacity potential to grow to a super port handling four to five million containers per year. Add that to the expansions at Vancouver area ports and Canada will have container terminal capacity in the 10 to 11 million range when it is needed versus a best case scenario of about 8.2 million containers being handled by 2040.”
Mr. Emsley’s credentials? He is a member of Port Metro Vancouver’s Community Liaison Committee . He also points out that there has not been a business case study by the Port for Terminal Two expansion.
You can take a look at the Port of Vancouver’s promotional video for the Roberts Bank Terminal Two below.