In Southern British Columbia, we have a potential environmental disaster on the horizon. A direct transfer coal terminal is planned to be built in Surrey on the banks of the Fraser River. Trains carrying coal from the US will dump their loads at this terminal, to be loaded on to barges. The barges will be towed down the River and along the Coast to be loaded on freighters at Texada Island. The ships are destined for far-Eastern buyers.
This coal will be originally mined from seams up to 100 feet thick in the Powder River basin deposits in Wyoming, where 388 million tons of low-sulfur thermal coal was produced in 2012 for electricity-producing coal-fired furnaces in the United States and around the world. One hundred trains composed of up to 150 hopper cars per day, each over half a mile long move this coal out of the Valley. It is estimated by the BNSF Railway that during transport five to 32 tons of coal dust and chunks are deposited on the landscape over a 400 mile stretch of track. Although the use of coal to produce electricity has declined in recent years in the United States due to stricter air quality standards and the conversion of many electric plants to natural gas, China continues to burn massive amounts to feed its many coal-fired plants.
Powder River coal coming into British Columbia for export is presently carried on the BNSF line. This runs from Wyoming, through southwestern Montana, northern Idaho, into Washington, then up the I-5 corridor into BC. The present line delivering coal to the Westshore Coal Export Terminal crosses the International Border at Blaine, Washington then proceeds along the coast through White Rock, Delta and Ladner, to the Westshore Terminal. The proposed route to the Fraser Surrey Docks (FSD) branches from this line in White Rock and will run north through Surrey. From the border, it would pass along four kilometres of White Rock’s coastline then through North Delta to the River. A total of 320 trains per year is planned, resulting in twice that many barge trips. The Burlington Northern Sante Fe railway is owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, a U.S. company.
The plans for the Fraser Surrey Docks (FSD) expansion have hit a few snags. Development of the facility has received the go ahead from Port Metro Vancouver (PMV), which is the Federal overseer for all the Lower Mainland terminal operations. This was done in spite of considerable local opposition from environmental groups, community organizations, First Nation leaders, and the mayor and most of the directors of Metro Vancouver. Communities adjacent to the proposed rail lines and plant are especially concerned about the various potential environmental and health problems. Procedures at the Fraser Surrey Docks will involve unloading the rail cars onto covered conveyor systems, and/or storage pits or enclosures. Loading of barges is similarly by conveyor system. FSD also proposes installation of dust suppression systems and installation of equipment for treatment and disposal of any wastewater produced. As a result of PMV concerns, original plans for emergency coal stockpiling have been eliminated, and dust-suppression procedures are planned for the trains halfway bewtween the mine and the Terminal and immediately prior to barge transfer.
FSD and PMV have gone to considerable expense in attempts to allay the fears of local organizations and communities with regards to human health hazards and environmental damage, throught the contracting of preumably neutral consultants. Even if all these assurances are believed and FSD can be relied on to follow through with its proposed safe practices, there will be damage. Coal dust will escape into the air and water, and will be consumed in varying degrees by the populace, land and marine animals and fish in the Fraser and along the Coast. In the case of transportation, loading and unloading accidents, thes negative effects will be compouded. And, train wrecks happen.
So, United States coal will be carried on U.S. trains and French-owned barges involving an Australian-owned Fraser Surrey Docks Terminal and the French-owned Texada Island Transfer terminal, eventually to be burned by non-Canadian users in the Orient. What does Canada and BC get out of the arrangement? At best, we get about a hundred jobs; at the worst, we inherit a whole mess of pollution and serious future health problems.
Am I missing something, or is this as bad a deal as I see it? Your views?