By R. Bruce Striegler

Shaun Stevenson, Vice-President, Trade Development and Public Affairs, Prince Rupert Port Authority, says that although the last year has been strong for the Port on a number of fronts, overall the year was mixed. “We’ve seen growth in a number of our traditional lines of business, such as containers and also in the bulk side with grain. But we’re also seeing some slowdown in other dry bulk volumes, such as coal in particular.”

Ridley Island Terminal, (RTI) the port’s coal terminal, did achieve a fourth straight year of record in volumes, shipping 11.8 million tonnes in 2013. RTI, operating as a federal crown corporation since 1991, is upgrading, and in 2013 installed a third stacker/claimer. In 2014 a new tandem rotary dumper and a new thaw shed will be added to the Terminal’s operation, doubling total terminal capacity from the current 14 million tonnes. The Ridley Terminals capacity realization project is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2014, at a cost of approximately $255 million.

Terminal rail unloading volumes of coal in 2013 decreased by 2.3 per cent or 272,000 tonnes during 2013 for a total of 11,697,000 tonnes. Ship loading volumes in 2013 increased by 0.7 per cent, or 84,000 tonnes for a total export volume of 11,789,000 tonnes compared to the 11,705,000 tonnes in 2012. Since 2009, annual RTI revenue has climbed to $131 million from $25 million, a 424 per cent jump. The terminal opened in 1983, serving the coal mines of northern B.C., but began taking southeastern B.C. coal in 2010 and a year later, started to receive shipments for export from western U.S. coal fields.

Ridley Island Terminals was to be sold under the previous Liberal Government after years of mounting losses, but Conservative Prime Minister Harper killed the idea shortly after taking office in 2006. However, in December 2012, the government noted that the coal-loading operation had reversed years of huge losses, resulting in the facility reportedly being put up for sale again. With a weakened coal market, there have been no indications of an imminent sale. Quoted in published reports, Finance Department officials have noted that the government is consulting with First Nations and other stakeholders with respect to divesting Ridley Terminals, but there are no signs of initiating a formal sale process.

“Grain has been a really strong spot, with the heavy crops last year,” says Stevenson. Prince Rupert Grain’s terminal has the highest throughput of any grain-cleaning elevator in Canada. Its eight shipping bins and three tower-mounted loading spouts can load up to 4,000 tonnes of wheat or barley an hour. Using state-of-the-art technology, grain can be cleaned as fast as it is unloaded from rail cars. Volumes of wheat shipped in 2013 hit 3,373,819 tonnes, a 0.6 per cent increase over 2012. Barley exports increased 11.6 per cent from 2012, reaching 342,141 tonnes in 2013.

Container traffic remains strong at Maher’s Fairview Terminal

The terminal has been specifically designed as a high volume intermodal container transfer facility, and improvements under phase one of Maher Terminals Holding Corp.’s expansion plans have been completed. The terminal’s 18.7 metre berth depth can accommodate container ships with a capacity of 12,500 containers. Cargo is offloaded using 1,800-tonne super post panamax cranes with a reach of 22 containers, and the yard can hold 9,000 TEUs and has outlets for refrigerated containers. In August 2012, the terminal took delivery of a fourth crane, raising its capacity from 750,000 containers to 850,000 TEUs

Maher’s vision for the future includes the expansion of the Fairview Container Terminal to quadruple the capacity of the facility to 2 million TEUs. The expansion will extend the wharf to 800 metres, thus achieving an 18 metre (59 feet) minimum water depth, increase the dock area to 56 hectares (139 acres), and quadruple to eight the number of post-panamax cranes. The expanded facility will have an on-site storage capacity of 28,560 TEUs at five high.

Stevenson says that Fairview from the outset has been considered a large project. “Engineering design for the northern expansion, environmental assessment and consultation are now complete, the permits should be in hand to see the work advance in the near future as capacity is required.” Stevenson does note that any final decision will be up to the terminal operator, Maher terminals. “But, based upon the volumes we’re seeing and the demand for capacity, we think that is a project that should move forward in the near term, bringing us up to 1.3 million TEU capacity at the port.”

Seven potential Prince Rupert LNG installations; five outside Port Authority jurisdiction

“We are engaged with two proponents on lands we control. One is Petronas, or Pacific Northwest LNG, and the second is the BG Canada Group,” says Stevenson. “Both continue to conduct planning and feasibility work, but Petronas, through Pacific Northwest LNG, has been very vocal about working towards a final investment decision by the end of this year.” Stevenson notes that the Pacific Northwest LNG proposal is the strongest project contemplated for B.C., and is hopeful of seeing a decision within the next six months.

“BG Group is the second proponent we’re working with. The site is actually on Ridley Island,” he says. BG Group’s (formerly British Gas) Prince Rupert LNG Project includes the construction of an LNG plant and associated port facilities to export natural gas to international markets. The project will be developed in two phases and may eventually have a production capacity of up to 21 million tonnes, nearly 29 billion cubic metres of LNG per year. The project site covers approximately 255 acres on the southwestern part of Ridley Island. The site was selected because of its deep-water port and safe navigation access, road and rail access and existing infrastructure. The proposal includes a marine terminal with one jetty and two ship-loading berths that will be able to accommodate a ship with a capacity to transport up to 210,000 cubic metres of LNG. Prince Rupert LNG publicly says that during construction the project could create as many as 3,000 jobs, which includes between four and six hundred full-time permanent positions as well as other additional jobs and spin-off economic opportunities.

Stevenson says, “Around Prince Rupert there are a number of other proposals actively being investigated for Prince Rupert Harbour.” They include Aurora LNG, which is a joint venture between Nexen Energy ULC (a CNOOC Limited company), INPEX CORPORATION and JGC Corporation. Aurora LNG is studying the viability of building and operating a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal and is currently considering two sites for the proposed development, Grassy Point and Digby Island.

A second proposal from Woodside Energy Holdings Pty Ltd (Woodside) is reviewing the construction and operation of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility on provincially administered Crown Land at Grassy Point, near Prince Rupert. A third potential LNG facility is from Orca LNG Ltd. which proposes to develop an LNG terminal in the vicinity. The Orca Energy Hub would be a gas gathering and liquefaction facility that would consist of six floating liquefaction storage and offloading (“FLNG”) vessels, permanently moored near-shore. Each vessel will be able to liquefy approximately 4 to 5 million tonnes per annum of LNG. The fourth possible facility has seen the City of Prince Rupert enter an agreement with Watson Island LNG Corporation (WILNG) to repurpose Watson Island into a small LNG export terminal. The fifth and final proposal is from Imperial Oil Resources Limited and ExxonMobil Canada Ltd. Under the jointly owned affiliate WCC LNG Ltd., the companies are proposing to build the WCC project on the eastern shore of Tuck Inlet on the Tsimshian Peninsula near Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

Stevenson reiterates that Prince Rupert Port Authority is committed to ensuring responsible and sustainable growth reflecting the values and priorities of local communities and First Nations. “This means listening to and working with community partners to keep public interests in balance with the economic development, employment and industrial tax base of the community.” One of the community outreach programs the Port Authority is most proud is the Community Investment Fund. This is a share of PRPA income that is earmarked for local projects that contribute to the region’s quality of life and create long-lasting benefits.

In combination with funding from other businesses, community groups and government agencies, the Fund has enabled millions of dollars in local improvement projects since its inception in 2009. Each of the projects invested in has filled an important role supporting sports, recreation, performing arts, healthcare, education, the environment and other needs in the community. In the last four years, the Community Investment Fund has contributed more than $1.5 million in 33 projects. In 2013, $404,000 was committed to nine community projects.