By R. Bruce Striegler

George Dorsey, President of Ridley Terminals Inc. (RTI), says, “We operate a terminal built in the mid-80s that began with the intention of handling coal from B.C. and other western Canadian markets.” The anticipated market at the time was Japan, but Dorsey notes that the terminal’s history has been, “Less than glorious at times, because the coal industry has its ups and downs.” In 2008, the federal government wanted to make the business more competitive and following a review of the facility, decided that improvements and repairs were required, that the terminal needed more contracts and finally, a capacity expansion was in order.

Mr. Dorsey says that repairs and upgrades enable the terminal to handle 25 million tonnes of coal as well as store that volume. “The upgrades were facilitated because the visionary builders who designed the terminal in the mid-80’s had anticipated doubling the original capacity of 12 million tonnes, and they built a path into the initial plan to do that.” That path included a superstructure to handle additional conveyor belts, and the original plans identified an area for a second rotary dump and blasted out a cavern for that second dump. “There were a variety of ways in which they anticipated expansion, and we simply followed that plan with some improvements.”

“We rebuilt our two stacker reclaimers and added a third.” The Ridley Island terminal completed the first phase of expansion in 2013 with the installation of the stacker reclaimer. “This facility now has world-scale capacities. We expanded the physical layout of the facility to add an additional 35 acres of storage area.” Dorsey says that the terminal did not add the second rotary dump, “We’ve postponed that until coal volumes return to projected volumes, but we’ve made a facility that can handle 25 million tonnes of coal or solid fuels.” Today, the terminal has a 9,000 tonne per hour ship loading system, and its berth can handle Capesize vessels up to 250,000 deadweight tonnes. Ridley Terminals exports metallurgical and thermal coal, and petroleum coke from B.C., Alberta and the United States to markets in Asia.

Identifying alternate product strategies

However, after four consecutive years of growth, volumes decreased in 2014 as a result of depressed coal markets. Dorsey says that forecasts of coal’s turnaround indicate improvements in terms of the years 2021-22. “These are long forward dates for us, and very difficult for anyone to consider clearly and with certainty in today’s world, since the industry is dealing with new and different dynamics. In today’s volatile commodities markets, projecting that far forward is very difficult.” Mr. Dorsey says that over the last few years, Ridley Terminals has identified and worked on alternative product strategies. “There’s a need to identify Ridley as a facility that’s not a coal facility but rather, is a world-class terminal that has the capacity to handle a variety of bulk liquids and bulk dry products.

Mr. Dorsey says that in the past there have been strong incentives to take coal from Alberta or B.C., but those incentives have vanished due to the price decline. “Plenty of other commodities need to be transported, hydrocarbons as well as minerals and ores, and commodities such as caustic soda. There are a variety of commodities that could go in or out of these facilities and producers or consumers would see significant improvement in their logistics.”

Dorsey says the company has worked on this, “Today Ridely is a facility that benefits from a dock with 25 million tonnes of capacity to load vessels, meaning we can handle ships of 250,000 deadweight tonnes.” He adds that with more than 20 metres of low-tide water, the terminal is capable of handling the largest vessels in the world. “It’s an ice-free port, this facility is ready for prime-time. It’s been refurbished, it’s been upgraded. We have an additional 22km of rail within the facility. It’s available today because the coal industry decline has allowed us to speak to people about an additional 10-15 million tonnes of capacity across our dock, and it’s available today, immediately.”

With 100 acres of undeveloped property and undeveloped water lots, Ridley has huge expansion capacity. “With the undeveloped water lots, we can add three docks and we’re looking forward to tapping these resources when a customer knocks on our door.” Dorsey added that Ridely Terminals is an opportunity world-wide for those in the business of moving commodities. “We’re connected to the best railroad in North America, CN Rail stretches from coast to coast and down to New Orleans, has plenty of capacity on the main line which touches our property. From a rail logistics point-of-view, it’s ideal and the local communities are receptive to having more traffic.”

Mr. Dorsey is optimistic about a fit between Ridley Terminals and the new commodities he outlined, saying, “One only has to do a quick search on pricing for some of those commodities from Alberta, and make a comparison with those prices delivered to Asian markets.” Examples Dorsey cites include propane, butane and other liquid commodities which have suffered as a result of the oversupplies built up in Canada and the U.S. He says that anthracite is another product which is not as difficult as traditional coal to handle and there are huge anthracite reserves in B.C. “It’s not easily developed and not quickly developed, but it’s there, and this is a place where we might see a bright spot.” He adds, “We move petroleum coke, but today’s pet coke prices are not supportive of a lot of oil sands petroleum coke moving to market because logistics costs are roughly the same as the market value.” That could change if the country’s environment ministers decide that it cannot be stored, but must be moved out. “This would mean quite a lot of volume that would come our way.”