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In an earlier post I noted that British Columbia presently mines, transports and ships metallurgical coal used in the steel industry in Asia.  However in recent months there has been a push to expand our coal exports to include vast amounts of US thermal coal used to produce electricity. Washington, Oregon and California have all said no to the export of this excess thermal coal through their ports. So why do we think its okay to ship the coal through British Columbia ports? There are very few jobs associated with coal export and we know that coal combustion is the dirtiest way to produce electricity. In fact, North American markets are drying up for this thermal coal due to an explosion of shale gas production and shale gas burns much cleaner and more efficiently than coal. Even China recently announced plans to significantly reduce their use of coal.

In order to increase our export capacity for thermal coal, Fraser Surrey docks have proposed the creation of a Direct Transfer Coal Facility. This facility would transfer coal from trains to barges for transport to a handling facility at Texada Island. There coal would be stored and loaded onto ships destined for the Asian market.  I understand the desire of Fraser Surrey docks to expand their operations, but is coal really the only option? I think not.

According to Port Metro Vancouver “Container traffic through the west coast of Canada is expected to double over the next 10 to 15 years and nearly triple by 2030“. In my earlier post mentioned above, I pointed out how the Port of Prince Rupert seized upon some of their natural geographical advantages to host a modern container facility. Presently their container facility does not have a capacity for destuffing and restuffing containers upon their arrival from Asia. But by adding such a capacity, hundreds of local jobs would be created.

This week I toured the Alberni Inlet and the port in Port Alberni to get a sense of what potential for growth existed there. The CEO of the Port Authority, Zoran Knezevic, together with the Port Authority directors that I met, shared a vision that has enormous potential for both local job creation and the environment. It sure looks like a win-win proposition for industry, the citizens of Port Alberni, their Huu-ay-aht First Nation partners, Fraser Surrey docks and Vancouver as a whole.

At present, container ships entering the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Asia and elsewhere will first head to Seattle to unload/load. There they will typically spend a day before moving on to either Deltport or facilities on the south shore of the Burrard Inlet. Another day or so will be spent in the Vancouver region before the ships head back to Asia. Many of the containers unloaded/loaded in the Burrard Inlet are put onto or taken off trucks which drive across the city to the existing distribution and industrial centres largely located on the south arm of the Fraser River. The trucks — more than a million of them a year — add to traffic congestion in the Metro Vancouver area.

So what’s the solution? Port Alberni is proposing to build a container trans-shipment terminal in partnership with the Huu-ay-aht First Nation about 35 km down the inlet from the town of Port Alberni. The facility would be used to unload container ships from Asia and reload their cargo onto barges that would head to either Seattle or Vancouver. The shipping industry wins as their large container ships only unload/load once and save the ~4 day trip to Seattle, Vancouver and back out the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Vancouver wins as the barges can now travel up the south arm of the Fraser River directly to the industrial/distribution sites thereby eliminating more than a million truck trips a year off Metro Vancouver roads. Fraser Surrey Docks win as they can grow to include an expanded container handling facility which would allow them to load/unload trains with cargo instead of coal. And with the expected doubling of container traffic in the next 10 to 15 years, there is indeed a need for additional container handling capacity.

Let’s hope that Fraser Surrey docks, the Port of Metro Vancouver, the Port Alberni Port Authority and the BC Government can all get together to work this out. After all, we all win as the power basin thermal coal stays in the ground.


  1. NewtonHockey-
    February 13, 2014 at 8:32 am

    What happens when there is a tsunami in Albernie Inlet? I have the same concern about a tsunami in Hecate Straight capsizing oil tankers and spilling their cargoes. There have been tsunamis in both locations and they are certain to occur again.

    • February 13, 2014 at 8:49 am

      Exactly. Frankly I think we should be assuring energy security for North America first and foremost and not ship this stuff offshore at all. This is why I think Mulcair’s idea to upgrade in Alberta and pipe to eastern refineries also has merit and should be discussed openly and honestly without spin. We are importing oil from abroad (in tankers) for our refineries in Eastern Canada and that makes little sense. Noone wants heavy oil tankers on our coast. You raise an interesting point about containers. I think the concern would apply to most ports.

  2. Michael Major-
    February 10, 2014 at 10:24 pm

    Boosting corporate globalization and virtually unregulated deep sea shipping of bulk and container cargo is not a recipe for domestic employment but for concentrating work where work is cheapest, for delivering resources from where they are cheapest to destinations where manufacturing is cheapest and less regulated and for final end-use delivery to where the least tributary economic activity can be achieved. In short, participating in corporate globalization creates few jobs here, with much drudgery, pollution and waste produced elsewhere.

    Every bulk carrier, container ship, supertanker and LNG ship has the emission profile of a decrepit unregulated Chinese coal fired power plant until it shifts pro tem to diesel fuel in harbour if we are lucky.

    I am not voting green to participate in bribe arbitrated BAU, you can do that with the BCLiberals and NDP. I am voting and donating green to create a sustainable self-reliant, resilient and equitable domestic economy and I won’t mind sacrificing the tons of cheap plastic junk and soon to be landfilled techno waste in order to build a domestic green economy that is lighter on our world.

    I am sort of hoping that your referenced optimism was simply misguided by a honeypot of corporate huckstering which is trying to get you to commit to a plethora of projects antithetical to green values.

    Michael Major\

  3. Lynne Wheeler-
    February 7, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    So Andrew, I would like to know exactly how you feel about coal exports. As you probably know, Compliance Energy plans to ship its coal through Port Alberni if the coal mine is approved. This coal mine would devastate the watershed of the people living downstream, and the people in Port Alberni if the coal port is built in their town. where do you stand on the proposed Raven Coal mine in Fanny Bay? Where do you stand on coal exports?

    • February 8, 2014 at 3:40 pm

      Hello Lynne, I think the headline of my article is pretty clear. For me it’s “No to coal” and “yes to jobs”. The Raven Coal project is bad for so many reasons, including very real concerns over its effect on our east coast shellfish industry and water quaility in the area. I think we need an emphatic statement from the BC Government that this project is dead.

  4. Heather Libby-
    February 6, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    Doctor Weaver,

    Earlier this week you were quoted in the Georgia Strait that you believe the Northern Gateway pipeline should include its own refinery at the Kitimat terminal. Does this mean that you believe the Northern Gateway pipelines project should go ahead? Secondly, if Kinder Morgan’s expansion includes increased refinery capacity, would you support it as well? Thanks in advance for your reply.


    • February 7, 2014 at 6:12 pm

      Hello Heather, thank you for the comment. I am opposed to the Northern Gateway project. With respect to Kinder Morgan, I have applied to be an intervenor. I will be speaking about my position on CKNW on Sunday. I am opposed to dilbit being transported in tankers. I also do not want dilbit being put in piplines. I thought the Prince George Citizen piece was very good. I am hoping to put a piece up on my website sometime this weekend to clarify further,

  5. jeremy-
    February 6, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    This doesn’t entirely seem like a win win to me. What happens to the truck drivers who rely on the jobs created by the million plus truck trips annually? Do they all go on E.I. and eventually find entry level jobs and re-start careers, or do they just relocate to Vancouver Island and increase the truck traffic through the Alberni Valley when the proposed terminal is constructed down the Inlet? If or when these propositions are put forward how will it affect the employment and careers of the many logistics dispatchers, warehouse/terminal personnel, heavy duty mechanics, tire shops, fuel stations, etc. that service this massive fleet of trucks?

    • February 6, 2014 at 8:18 pm

      In the article you will see that they expect a doubling of container traffic in the next 10 years. Truckers keep on trucking but 1 million extra truck trips don’t need to be on road. Appreciate you letting me clarify.