Sunday, July 31, 2011

Coal Terminal: Bulk Carriers & Kayaks

"You got to be careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there." - Yogi Berra
How'd you like to be out kayaking and look up to see something like this bearing down on you?

Something like that could happen you know, if the proposed Coal Terminal at Cherry Point ever gets built.
In fact, it may have already happened with oil tankers bringing Alaskan crude to a local refinery.
But, much bigger problems could occur should a spill, collision or grounding ever happen with any very large ship plying our local waters.
There are plans afoot to bring many more such behemoth ships into our rather pristine Salish Sea.
Between the Coal Terminal proposal and Canadian schemes to export oil sands crude from Alberta, the future is in very serious doubt.
On that cheery note, let's look further at what is happening elsewhere, in a global frenzy of natural resource extraction and trade.
Shipping coal to Newcastle was a joke the Brits liked to tell. Of course, Newcastle was where the coal was mined and exported from. There's a new Newcastle, down under in Australia, and it puts the old Newcastle to shame. Here's a short fairly recent report from Bloomberg.
And, here's another more detailed account of what's happening down under.

But, you don't have go all the way to Australia for this type of information. Here's an article describing recent activity around coal exports from the Hampton Roads area in Virginia, which was also mentioned in an earlier blog.

And, here's a good picture of the smaller coal terminal in Seward, Alaska.

Here's a larger coal loading facility in India.------------------------------------------

How'd you like to see dozens of large ships queued up waiting to be loaded at Cherry Point?
Where would they anchor? Anacortes? Port Angeles?
Exactly where would you prefer to see them wait?
[Supposing, of course, that you had any influence in this matter.]

Who would you appeal to? The Army Corps of Engineers? The US Coast Guard? The State of Washington? The Province of British Columbia? Greenpeace? Who?
Just asking, mind you, but maybe this is a topic for discussion.....

Also, just for discussion, here's another website to help comprehend this industry.
And, the types of ships likely to be employed in any coal exporting scheme are described in detail by Wikipedia.

Don't know about you, but to me the ships necessary for this undertaking are the most worrisome part of the entire proposal.
Their presence in our part of the Salish Sea violates every preservation principle we can think of because it puts all our marine ecosystems under direct threat!

Think about it. These huge, foreign-registered vessels -each manned by only 20 to 30 people and drawing 50 feet or more- will be hanging around the Straits of San Juan De Fuca, dodging orcas, ferries, tour boats and all manner of private small craft in the few deep water channels winding through the San Juan Islands, and in the limited approaches to Cherry Point and points north.

Do you think they will not dump bilge waste and ballast while there?
Will escort tugs be required to help them stay safely in these channels?
Will licensed Pilots be necessary to guide them in and out?
What spill protection will be implemented? How many spills and mishaps will it take to befoul our waters and render them undesirable?
Will their presence help our valuable marine life survive and thrive?

Pardon me, but I do have a few doubts, which do not disappear despite hearing about all the potential benefits!
But, maybe that's also not my responsibility, or the County's, or the State's? How about the US Government?
And so, maybe some folks don't think I have the right to publicly question or challenge such things; that we must leave it to 'others', without even trying to influence them with our legitimate concerns?
Still, I do wonder if all these things will be adequately included in the EIS required? Don't you?

While we're thinking about having big ships coming here, how about building a deep water cruise terminal instead, notwithstanding the well-documented problems associated with this idea? One of these ships [about 225,000 DWT] is five times bigger than the Titanic.
At least that way, we could gain some tangible tourist dollars, without the need to endure endless coal trains.
But, seriously, is that such a good idea?


Back to trains for a moment;
It almost makes the many additional daily trains required to fill the maws of these gigantic vessels, a small, incidental consideration by comparison.
So, how trains many trains per day?

Let's see, 48 million metric tons per year, divided by 365 days equals what? About 131,500 metric tons [1 MT= 2205 lbs] per day?
One train load equals about 12,000 tons per day; means about an average of 11 train loads would be required per day.

Capesize Bulk Carriers are vessels of 80,000 Dead Weight Tons [DWT] and over, that are so named because they are too large to pass through either the Panama or Suez Canals.
So, assuming timely supply and loading can be achieved, and doing quick math, the equivalent of a ship with about 150,000 DWT would need to be loaded every day.

I don't know if this is actually feasible, affordable, or sustainable, but the numbers do indicate a pretty darn quick turnaround -in all weather conditions- and a likely sizable -20 or more? -queue of ship traffic, waiting to be loaded, plus constantly entering or leaving our inland waters.

Put all together, this type of operation simply can't help but have dramatic impacts on our area, land and sea!

Tell me again, what are the benefits of such a plan? Who gets them and how much?
And, while we're at it, what are the costs? And to whom? Who will pay?
You know, for a real COST/BENEFIT Analysis, both aspects need to be considered and compared!
I'd rather this information be developed & debated BEFORE this scheme gets implemented, not AFTER, wouldn't you?

Methinks, some folks may have to give up kayaking in the San Juan Islands if this scheme comes to pass, but that's just a guess....

US Navy Aircraft Carriers like this one weigh in at only about 100,000 DWT. Two are based in Everett and usually only one at a time ties up at a secure wharf, with services provided from shore.
Imagine 20 of these dudes just hanging around, offshore.
“So they [the Government] go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful for impotence.” - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965]

Maybe we ought to give the Guv'mint a hand in figuring this out to our mutual benefit?