Note: I’m going to continue updating this post as I come across new pieces of evidence. My most recent update was on 5/13/13.
At a Seattle Town Hall forum last week, SSA Marine VP Bob Watters’ claimed again—and despite much evidence to the contrary—that it doesn’t matter whether his firm builds a huge coal terminal near Bellingham. According to this theory, if Oregon and Washington communities don’t ship the coal then British Columbia ports will simply export it instead.
But it’s not true.
Coal industry leaders themselves—along with top analysts and journalists—agree that Canadian ports have nowhere near enough capacity to handle the staggering volumes planned for export from the Northwest states. Industry experts have repeatedly said that new terminals would mean dramatic increases in coal shipping. For example:
…this will depend crucially upon the expansion of port capacity, much of which is currently utilised for metallurgical coal exports, particularly at the Canadian West Coast terminals of Westshore and Neptune. This bottleneck prevents Powder River Basin (PRB) coal from reaching the Pacific Basin in large volumes.
– Deutsche Bank, Commodities Special Report, “Thermal Coal: Coal At A Crossroads,” May 9, 2013.
What is really needed for U.S. coal to be competitive in the Asian markets is export terminals on the West Coast that would cut shipping days from 18-22, down to 10-12. This is no secret to anyone with a cursory knowledge of the coal markets (or anyone living in the Pacific Northwest, for that matter).
– Seeking Alpha, April 22, 2013.
The market is down and we don’t have any export capacity.
– Marion Loomis, Wyoming Mining Association director, quoted by Darren Epps, “Construction halted at new Haystack mine in Wyoming due to weak coal markets,” SNL Financial, April 8, 2013.
We’ve got the assets in place, what we need now is the terminal.
– Colin Marshall, CEO of Cloud Peak Energy, quoted by Darren Epps, “Cloud Peak CEO: No obvious domestic growth story in PRB,” SNL Financial, March 6, 2013.
Canadian ports are actually at full capacity. A lot of the contracts, at least for the recent expansion proposals, have been for Canadian coal to be exported… I talked to the head of the Westshore Terminal, actually, and he told me that they are already contracted and that it’s not going to be American coal.
– Ashley Ahearn, coal export journalist, KUOW Public Radio at “EarthFix Seattle Coal Export Panel,” February 13, 2013.
At present, there is limited terminal capacity for the export of PRB coal to foreign markets. Our access to existing and any future terminal capacity may be adversely affected by regulatory and permit requirements, environmental and other legal challenges, public perceptions and resulting political pressures, operational issues at terminals and competition among North American coal producers for access to limited terminal capacity, among other factors.
– Cloud Peak Energy, Form 10-K, filed with US Securities and Exchange Commission on February 14, 2013.
We don’t have the capacity to offload the coal.
– Martin Loomis, Wyoming Mining Association director, quoted by Adam Voge, “Coal workers keep eye on foreign markets,” February 18, 2013, Casper Star-Tribune.
Much of America’s increased exports have gone to Europe and Latin America via existing coal terminals on the east and Gulf coasts. Some go to Asia via ports in Canada and California. But to really play in the booming Asian markets, the US has to dramatically expand its negligible west coast coal export capacity.
– Ben Potter, “US coal firms export markets,” Australian Financial Review, February 6, 2013.
The capacity of all of these new terminals could add 120-140 million tons of capacity, in addition to the Canadian expansions.
– Everett King, Ambre Energy president and CEO, quoted by Andrew Moore, “Ambre CEO confident US Pacific Northwest coal terminals will be built,” Platts Coal Trader, February 4, 2013.
Haberlin, like Eaves, said new export terminals in the Pacific Northwest would be a “game changer” that would likely boost US coal exports past 200 million tons annually.
– John Eaves, CEO of Arch Coal, and J. Christopher Haberlin, vice president of research of Davenport & Co., quoted by Andrew Moore, Platts, “Coal exports a major focus for US producers as supply needs change: execs,” January 31, 2013.
Ten years from now, maybe there will be some export capacity on the West Coast, but for right now, what we have is completely full.
– Brian Schweitzer, former Montana governor, quoted by Dan Testa, “Former Mont. Gov. Brian Schweitzer calls most Wash. coal export plans ‘dead’,” SNL Financial, January 17, 2013.
All three British Columbia coal export terminals [are]: expanding, running at capacity, [and] turning away business.
– Westshore Terminal Ltd, presentation to Tsawwassen Probus Club, November 21, 2012.
While demand from our Asian customers remains strong, this year’s exports will again be limited by available terminal capacity out of the Pacific Northwest.
– Cloud Peak Energy, “Cloud Peak Energy Inc. Announces Results for the First Quarter of 2012.”
There’s really nowhere to ship Powder River Basin coal right now. The terminals in Vancouver (B.C.) and farther north near Alaska near Prince Rupert in British Columbia are at capacity. They’re expanding as fast as they can, and it’s really not economical to ship it by rail all the way up to Prince Rupert in British Columbia. So, the economics of transportation –- and it’s not cheap to haul this coal –- make it really difficult to earn any money at all by shipping it that far.
– Darren Epps, coal export editor for Platts, quoted by Cassandra Profita, “EarthFix Conversations: The Economic Pull Of Coal Exports In The Northwest,” Oregon Public Broadcasting, April 3, 2012.
Over the last few years, even though the coal industry has heard the chatter about new terminals opening up somewhere, the options haven’t really changed much. Now several years into a sustained Asian export market, the only real routing options are at the end of a long rail haul to one of three British Columbia-based operations: Neptune Terminal in North Vancouver, Westshore Terminal in Tsawwassen, south of Vancouver, and Ridley Terminals, Inc. (RTI) , located near the Alaskan coast in Prince Rupert.
And of the three, at the moment, only the one furthest away from U.S. producers, RTI, has any real capacity left to squeeze out from what’s scheduled in 2012…
…Bottom line is that while Ridley and Westshore are rapidly expanding, a good portion of what throughput space is being created actually won’t be available on the open market. Much of the new capacity is already owned… …as U.S. producers struggle to find new overseas homes for their coal, both terminals are going to have to fight to keep up. And despite whatever hopes are raised by the prospects of new capacity, most U.S. producers are going to have keep hoping new West Coast ports can finally figure out a way to open up.
– Lee Buchsbaum, associate editor, “While Canadian Terminals Expand Export Capacities, Many U.S. Producers are Still Going to be Short of Space,” Coal Age, March 20, 2012.
The key to accessing the Asian export market is port capacity. The US west coast currently supplies only 8Mtpa of Asia’s total thermal coal demand of 550Mtpa. Current port capacity restricts any further growth.
– Ambre Energy, 2011 Annual Report
You can find a pdf version of this blog post here (current as of February 19, 2013). For a more detailed explanation of why Canada’s ports cannot handle large volumes of US coal, please see Sightline’s in-depth July 2012 report, “Coal Exports From Canada.”