Controversial shipments of coal through Metro Vancouver are on pace to set a new record this year and more crude oil tankers also loaded in the first half of 2013, according to port statistics.
Just over two-thirds of the 18.2 million tonnes of coal shipped out in the first six months of the year was B.C.-mined metallurgical coal used in steelmaking, while the remainder – 5.5 million tonnes – was thermal coal from the U.S.
“It’s the strongest first half we’ve ever seen,” said Port Metro Vancouver president and CEO Robin Silvester, adding coal exports are up nine per cent compared to the midpoint of 2012.
The increase comes without a decision yet on whether the port authority will approve a proposed new terminal at Fraser Surrey Docks that could add up to eight million tonnes of annual coal-handling capacity.
Nor is there any timeline for making the decision, Silvester said.
Work continues to address outstanding questions, he said, including potential health impacts from coal dust that may escape.
He said a report is being prepared by a third-party expert with expertise in human health impacts from coal and once complete it will be provided for review to area medical health officers, who have pressed for more study.
“We hope that will move the debate from being somewhat speculative to being very objective,” Silvester said.
Climate change activists have sought to block more coal exports, particularly U.S. coal from Wyoming.
Crude oil exports are also up so far, with 33 tankers loaded in the first half compared to 23 in the first six months of 2012.
Most of the tankers loading crude oil sent through the Trans Mountain pipeline to Kinder Morgan’s Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby were bound for California, Silvester said, adding some of that comes back to B.C. as refined petroleum.
Tanker numbers fluctuate each year, he said, depending on how much oil is piped to Washington State refineries or used by the Chevron refinery in Burnaby.
Cruise ship passenger numbers are also up more than 20 per cent.
Overall cargo handling at the port is up 6.3 per cent and three per cent more containers were moved.
Silvester said the numbers reflect strong demand for B.C. resources, despite less rapid growth of the Chinese economy.