Kinder Morgan abandoning coal plan: looking for new sites in Pacific Northwest

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A decision by Kinder Morgan to abandon plans to build a coal export facility in Oregon could have repercussions for British Columbia.

The company says it is “still looking at options in the Pacific Northwest” after blaming poor logistics as the reason for dropping plans to build a $200 million coal export terminal on the Columbia River in northern Oregon.

The facility would have handled just over 30 million tonnes of coal annually, most of it destined for overseas markets. Kinder Morgan spokesman Allen Fore told the Los Angeles Times “we concluded our analysis and determined that we could not find a location on that particular footprint that would be compatible with the facility that we needed to construct.”

Environmental and community groups who had been fighting the proposal applauded the decision, calling it a “huge victory for the people of Oregon and another blow to the coal companies.”

“The evidence is in that dirty coal export plans are not viable in the Pacific Northwest,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director for Columbia Riverkeeper. “Now families across the Northwest can breathe easier knowing that the largest coal export terminal proposed in the State of Oregon is off the table.”

Three of six proposed coal export facilities are now ‘off the table’ in the Pacific Northwest. One that continues to move forward is a proposal from SSA Marine for a $655 million Gateway Pacific Terminal for the Cherry Point area just north of Ferndale in Watcom County, close to the Canadian border. The deep-water terminal would include a number of cargoes, including coal. The proposal is currently in the environmental impact study phase, but it faces stiff opposition from citizens and environmental groups.

The coal and shipping industry in the Pacific Northwest has expressed concern that if coal export facilities are not approved and constructed, the economic benefits will shift north to Canada. SSA Marine senior vice president Bob Watters told The Vancouver Observer that Cherry Point is an ideal location for a cargo port, but it must first be approved.

“I think with the physical attributes of very deep water, the capability of handling (very large) cape size ships and the shorter rail haul, that we are in a very competitive situation to capture the majority of the PRB (Powder River Basin coal from Montana and Wyoming) before it goes to Canada,” said Watters. “That being said, if our project does not get approved then I think there is a very high likelihood that that PRB coal will go to Canada.”

“Washington has all the same impacts but does not get the benefits of the jobs or tax revenues, and Canada does,” said Watters.

Canada Expanding Coal Exports

Currently BC’s Westshore Terminal is the only coal export facility in the Pacific Northwest. It hopes to expand its exports to meet rising overseas coal demand. Port Metro Vancouver is also considering a proposal from Fraser Surrey Docks to build and operate a new coal export facility from the Fraser River and has approved additional coal exports from the Neptune Terminal in North Vancouver.

VandenHeuvel of Columbia Riverkeeper says Canadians should be wary of companies eyeing coal exporting opportunities in Canada.

“I’m hopeful that B.C. leaders will consider the tremendous threats from coal export and take a stand,” says VandenHeuvel. “It’s true that coal companies are pushing for export terminals in Canada. However, with growing opposition to these terminals in the BC lower mainland, it’s certainly not a likely proposition that these projects will go ahead. We stand in solidarity with BC citizens who don’t want dirty coal exports.”

Canadian Opposition to Coal Growing

In BC, NDP leader Adrian Dix has already called for a public hearing into the coal export proposal from Fraser Surrey Docks. The decision on that proposal rests with Port Metro Vancouver, which is appointed by Ottawa.

The BC based Voters Taking Action Against Climate Change (VTAACC) has been leading the charge against increased coal exports from BC since the Fraser Surrey Docks proposal was discovered last November. And the organization is promising a battle against the Port and coal companies.

“We’ll fight them just as hard as the opponents did down there in the US,” said VTAACC executive director Kevin Washbrook. “We’ve been fighting them hard since last November on the proposal to ship PRB coal from a brand new coal port in Surrey. Now we have vertically integrated opposition from residents, community organizations, municipal governments, regional governments, the NDP, MP’s and health authorities. We are geared up for a major fight.”

In Oregon, SSA Marine VP Bob Watters admits there is growing opposition to coal, but he doesn’t believe it’s shared universally.

“There is opposition is out there and they are quite vocal. But when surveys have been done in Oregon and Washington, the majority of people on an almost two to one basis support expanding export facilities and handling more bulk cargoes, including coal.”