By R. Bruce Striegler

It has taken two years, been the subject of lengthy scrutiny by permitting and environmental authorities and has been the target of substantial public condemnation. In mid-August, Fraser Surrey Docks (FSD) received approval from Port Metro Vancouver to proceed with its direct coal transfer facility. “Over the past two years, a significant amount of work and a number of comprehensive studies have gone into ensuring this project is safe and that concerns raised were addressed,” says Jeff Scott, President and CEO, “We’re pleased that Port Metro Vancouver has granted the permit, and we will now begin moving towards construction.”

“The decision to permit the proposed coal transfer facility at Fraser Surrey Docks was not one we took lightly,” said Peter Xotta, Vice-President, Planning and Operations at Port Metro Vancouver. “Through our comprehensive project review process, stakeholder consultation, as well as third-party validated environmental and health studies, it was determined there are no unacceptable risks and the project could be permitted.” In mid-June, the regional governing body for Metro Vancouver voted to oppose U.S. coal shipments through Fraser Surrey Docks, citing concerns over air quality, the only issue of the proposal Metro Vancouver has jurisdiction over.

Though the project did not require either a full federal or provincial environmental assessment to be conducted by either the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency or the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office, Port Metro Vancouver decided to add the environmental impact assessment and additional human health assessments due to public interest in the project. Jeff Scott notes that as part of the review process, FSD contracted third-party experts to conduct environmental impact, air quality and human health risk assessments to identify potential project impacts, help enhance project design and develop comprehensive mitigation strategies throughout the logistics chain, “from rail to terminal to barge.”

Deep-sea port north of Vancouver to ship Powder River Basin coal

As outlined in its application to Port Metro Vancouver, Fraser Surrey Dock’s plan will see thermal coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana hauled to Vancouver by Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad unit trains, each about 110 cars, with at least one train per day. This project is expected to handle approximately two million metric tonnes of coal in the first year of operations, increasing to four million tonnes in years two and beyond. The $15-million project will provide 25 direct and 25 indirect full-time jobs.

From FSD’s terminal in the City of Surrey, part of Metro Vancouver, the coal will be barged down-river and out onto the Strait of Georgia. An approximate 100-kilometre journey north ends at Lafarge North America’s deep-sea port on Texada Island. In March, the facility had its permit amended by the B.C. Mines Ministry to increase its coal storage tenfold, which will adequately accommodate the four million tonnes of U.S. thermal coal which will be transshipped annually from Fraser Surrey Docks.

The fear of health risks from coal dust became the rallying point of thousands of protestors as Fraser Surrey Docks’ application worked its way through the approval process. Jeff Scott says, “Throughout the last two years we have continued to enhance the project design and dust mitigation strategies across the logistics chain.” He lists the steps being taken to ensure dust will be kept to a minimum, “Coal cars will be sprayed twice with a latex binding and topping agent; once at the mine site and once again at a station south of the Canada-U.S. border.”

Scott continues, explaining that coal will not be stockpiled at the terminal as the original plan had called for, and that all terminal conveyor systems and transfer points at the terminal will be fully enclosed and fitted with wet dust suppression systems. “The coal will be sprayed again at the terminal with a binding agent as it is being loaded onto the barges, and barges will not travel if the wind is in excess of 40 kilometres per hour.”

New FSD terminal joins two other coal facilities in Vancouver

Port Metro Vancouver’s existing coal terminals include Westshore Terminals at DeltaPort which is already Canada’s biggest coal terminal, 20 kilometres south of Vancouver. Westshore stores up to 1.5 million tonnes of coal and over the past few years, the company has spent $8.5 million upgrading pumps, rain guns and misting devices used to dampen and control dust from the piles, at a cost of about $1.5 million each year in water charges.

Neptune Terminals was given a permit by Port Metro Vancouver in 2013 to expand its steel-making coal handling capacity. Located in North Vancouver, across Burrard Inlet from the City of Vancouver, Neptune has now nearly finished a $63.5-million terminal expansion. Neptune’s improvements include the construction of a second enclosed railcar dumper, on-site track and ship loader improvements, adding conveyors and upgrading site power systems. The improvements will increase Neptune’s capacity to 18.5 million tonnes and add one train per day and one ship per week. Coal is the most heavily traded commodity in the port and the quantity to be shipped from Fraser Surrey Docks represents only about 10 per cent of total coal shipments from Port Metro Vancouver. Port Metro Vancouver notes that coal terminal operators within Port Metro Vancouver’s jurisdiction have been shipping coal safely for over 40 years.