Vancouver Port Moves to Double Coal Exports

Posted by on January 28, 2013 in Blog, Ports and Harbors | 0 comments

Port of Vancouver - via flickr, creative commons license by Michael ChuThe port authority Port Metro Vancouver approved an application last week that will greenlight a $200 million expansion to coal export facilities, just as similar coal export facilities are coming under intense scrutiny in Washington and Oregon. The expansion gives the go-ahead to the applicant, Neptune, to export Canadian coal purportedly intended for Asian steel-making markets. A second still-pending application, from applicant Fraser Surrey Docks, has proposed shipping American coal to Asian coal-burning power plants. Vancouver is already North America’s largest coal exporting port.

The proposed coal export facilities are increasingly controversial as global climate change remains a problem with no progress toward solution. A proposed export facility near Bellingham, Washington, for example, attracted more than 14,000 comments.

Meanwhile, in December, a coal ship accident in Vancouver caused a large plume of coal to be dumped into the Georgia Strait. According to accounts, the bulk carrier ship Cape Apricot slammed into its one of two berths at Vancouver’s Westshore Terminals.   According to the Vancouver Sun, “The ship went right through the causeway, taking a road, the coal-carrying conveyor belt, and electric and water lines with it.”  The accident put one of the two berths out of commission and dumped about a railcar of coal into the waterway.

Conservation interests expressed concern that coal dust is harmful to marine life, salmon, shorebirds, and other aquatic organisms. According to the Vancouver Sun article:

Ken Hall, professor emeritus with the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at the University of B.C., said submerged coal dust could contaminate marine life and upset the balance of an aquaculture. “Very fine material, if it stays suspended especially, could impact filter feeders and small invertebrates. Things like oysters and clams – it could get into their system and it’s not soluble, so it would just stay in there clogging their insides,” he said.

Hall said larger chunks of coal have the potential to smother benthic organisms – bottom-feeding fish and other marine plants and animals. “Material settles down and it could cover these organisms, like polychaetes – marine worms – very small clams and amphipods kind of like baby shrimp.” Hall also noted that geese, ducks and other birds could be indirectly affected by ingesting coal-contaminated crustaceans and shoreline matter. He suggested follow-up studies to study the effects of the coal dump, but said the accident would not be nearly as detrimental as an oil or gas spill.


More ports, more coal, more ships, more accidents, more damage to coastal resources.


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