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US coal seeks export terminals in the Pacific Northwest, the Gulf of Mexico, and BC

Aljazeera reports on the corporate push for new coal terminals in Louisiana, Alabama and Texas, a dynamic that is presently happening in British Columbia, notably with the proposal to expand the Fraser Surrey Docks direct-transfer coal facility in Vancouver now being reviewed by a federal agency.

“The domestic demand for U.S. coal has fallen in recent years as the use of other energy sources such as natural gas has grown. This, combined with tighter environmental rules, means that coal companies are starting to export their product like never before: From 2002 to 2012, coal exports from the United States more than tripled, to 127 million tons, according to the International Energy Agency. The U.S. government estimates that about 25 percent of that went to Asia. But coal companies haven’t captured enough of the international market, and haven’t built enough terminals, to make up for the sagging domestic demand — U.S. coal production has fallen by about 15 percent from its peak of about 1 billion tons in 2008.”

“With Asia’s economy growing, coal companies see the Pacific Northwest as the best location for coal terminals. But a groundswell of environmental activism in Washington and Oregon has so far blocked every major proposal. Environmentalists there have convinced state governments that the terminals aren’t worth the increased industrial blight, the health problems associated with coal dust and the degradation to natural resources associated with carting millions of tons of coal across the region and then across the ocean.”

“While coal companies are still trying to get permits to build near the Pacific, they’ve turned their attention to the Gulf of Mexico, where local governments and many citizens have been more accommodating to fossil fuel industries. There are now seven proposals for new coal terminals in Louisiana, Alabama and Texas, and seven proposals for existing terminal expansions in the three states, according to Al Armendariz, one of the leaders of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. As the terminals are proposed and built, local activists and residents say the same environmental and health issues that persuaded legislators to stop permitting terminals in the Pacific Northwest can be seen playing out in the communities surrounding the Gulf.”

As noted above, it would appear these same forces are at play in British Columbia.

The Georgia Straight has reported, “The port authority (Port Metro Vancouver, which is a federal body) is reviewing an application by Fraser Surrey Docks to develop a ‘direct-transfer coal facility’ (at its existing site on the Fraser River) to handle up to four million metric tonnes per year—with a potential to rise to eight million metric tonnes per year over the long term. Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway, which is owned by billionaire Warren Buffett’s holding company, wants to bring the coal in (import from the United States) by rail to be loaded onto 8,000 deadweight-tonne barges. They would be towed to Texada Island. From there, the coal would be stored and then placed onto deep-sea vessels for export to overseas markets.”

Just ten days ago, News 1130 reported, “(Fraser Surrey Docks) President and CEO Jeff Scott is hoping Port Metro Vancouver will make a decision within a month; he says his customers want to know, and his company would like to move on one way or another.”

If there is any good news in this, it may be this: Aljazeera notes, “Even supporters of coal energy acknowledge that the industry is becoming an increasingly risky investment. Cheap natural gas and government regulation have taken a hard hit on the coal industry here. And experts say that other countries, even China, may face similar fates. A pension fund backed by Goldman Sachs recently pulled out its 49 percent stake in what was supposed to be the largest coal terminal in North America. The company didn’t give a reason for the decision, but it released a report last July predicting that China’s demand for imported coal will shrink in the coming years.”

Further reading
Local Coal Terminal Plans Are Part of a Larger Fossil Fuel Export Strategy
Opposition growing to Fraser Surrey Docks coal terminal expansion
Clock Ticking, British Columbia Residents Rally to Oppose New Coal Terminal