The economic expansion in Asia is ramping up that region’s demand for coal. And the energy resource is in abundance in the Powder River Basin that straddles the Montana-Wyoming border.
But how to get it from the Rocky Mountain heartland of North America to factories and power plants in China, Japan, South Korea?
That’s where proposed coal export terminals come in.
Two projects in Washington are on the table. That’s down from six in Oregon and Washington. In August, 2014 Oregon regulators denied a key permit required for a project on the Oregon side of the Columbia River to proceed. In May, 2013, a proposal to build an export terminal at the Port of St. Helens in Oregon was dropped. A proposal to export coal from Coos Bay, Ore., lost support from its investors in March, 2013. A proposal to build a terminal in Hoquiam, Wash., was withdrawn in August, 2012.
These projects have drawn support for promised jobs and local economic benefits. Critics point to the potential for negative environmental and human health impacts and traffic congestion.
(Hover over markers and click play to hear reports on coal in communities of the Northwest. Click “website” for more EarthFix coverage. Click here for larger map view. Note: Train routes are approximations. They illustrate potential corridors based on existing lines and publicly available information.)
Seattle-based SSA Marine wants to build a terminal within the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve. It would ship millions of tons of coal from Montana and Wyoming to Asia. The company says it would create thousands of jobs and generate millions in tax and other revenues.
Players: SSA Marine, Peabody Energy, Gateway Pacific, Korea East-West Power
Full Capacity: To be reached in 2026
Export Plans: 48 million tons/year
Train: 18 trains/day (9 full and 9 empty)
Train Cars: 1,370/day
What’s Next: Environmental review of the project is expected to take two years. In July 2013, Washington Department of Ecology, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Whatcom County, Wash. announced they will consider climate change, human health and the environment. They will also look at the entire route from Western mines to coal-burning plants in Asia. The public’s input was a factor in the decision for a broad review. Government agencies took in public comments from close to 125,000 people from September, 2012 to January, 2013. As part of the public-input process, 9,000 people attended seven meetings in Washington in 2012. The government agencies are required to solicit public input before they issue an environmental impact statement and from there, approve development permits. A summary of the public comment can be found here.
There are no official agreements or permits for the terminal proposal. RailAmerica, the company that had been considering building the terminal, announced in August, 2012 it was no longer interested. The company previously said it would create 60 full-time jobs exporting 5 million tons of coal. The Port of Grays Harbor says it would have increased annual vessel traffic by 100 ships.
Full Capacity: To Be Determined
Export Plans: 5.5 million short tons
Train Cars: 2 trains/day
What’s Next: Rail America abandoned its plans in August, 2012 before submitting a formal application or permit request to start the terminal construction process.
A $640 million terminal that would eventually export 44 million tons of coal at a private brownfield site near Longview, Wash. It’s a joint venture of Australia’s Ambre Energy and Arch Coal, the second-largest coal producer in the U.S.
Players: Alcoa, Ambre Energy, Arch Coal
Full Capacity: To be reached by 2018
Export Plans: 44 million short tons/year
Trains: 16 trains/day (8 full and 8 empty)
Train Cars: 960/day
What’s Next: On Feb. 12, 2014 the Washington Department of Ecology announced what environmental impacts it will consider in its review of the Millennium Bulk Terminal. In September 2013, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced split from what was to be a joint review process. They will conduct a “separate but synchronized environmental review and public scoping process.” The corps’ review will be narrower in scope than that of Washington state. For more information on how to submit comments and to learn details for the public meetings visit the official EIS website.
Texas-based Kinder Morgan is proposing to design, build and operate a coal export terminal at the Port of St. Helens. PGE dealt a blow to the plan. The utility doesn’t want coal dust interfering with equipment at its nearby natural gas-fired power plant.
Players: Kinder Morgan Energy Partners
Full Capacity: To Be Determined (TBD)
Export Plans: 30 million tons/year
Train Cars: TBD
What’s Next: Kinder Morgan announced in May, 2013 it was abandoning plans for the export terminal. It said it is interested in building at an alternative site in the Northwest.
This two-port plan would have brought coal by rail to the Port of Morrow in Boardman, Ore. The Boardman terminal is also known as the Coyote Island Terminal. There it would have been transferred by barge and delivered to the Port of St. Helens and loaded onto ships headed for Asia.
Players: Ambre Energy North America & Pacific Transloading
Full Capacity: To be reached by 2016
Export Plans: 8.8 million short tons/year
Trains: 22 trains/week (11 full and 11 empty)
Trains Cars: 1,459/week
Barges: 12 tows/week
What’s Next: In August, 2014 the Oregon Department of State Lands denied a dredging permit to build a dock near Boardman, Ore., saying the project “is not consistent with the protection, conservation and best use of the state’s water resources.” The Army Corps of Engineers followed that decision by halting its own environmental assessmentof the project.
Ambre Energy and the Port of Morrow are appealing the decision.
The port was in negotiations with Metro Ports, a stevedoring and terminal management company based in California, and Mitsui, a large international trading company involved with commodities.
Players: Metro Ports (Mitsui and Korean Electric Power Corp. dropped out).
Full Capacity: to be reached by 2023
Export Plans: 11 million short tons/year
Trains: 4 trains (2 full and 2 empty)
Train Cars: 600/day
The Port of Coos Bay is regrouping after all three of its business partners — Metropolitan Stevedore Co., Mitsui and the Korean Electric Power Corp. — dropped out of negotiations in March, 2013. the port is not ruling out a restart with new or returning negotiating partners. To proceed, the port and private companies would need to acquire land on the North Spit from the Port and negotiate deal over access to the rail line, or decide to walk away from the project. The Port is seeking dredging permits from government regulators. The dredging would deepen the channel to accomodate vessels carrying a variety of commodities, which could include coal.
For a broad overview on the forces behind these proposed export terminals, here’s a video produced by a team of University of Oregon journalism students and voiced by EarthFix/KUOW journalist Ashley Ahearn:
Share your experiences as part of EarthFix's Public Insight Network.