Sightline is publishing a new research memo today that documents the facts about Canada’s coal exporting capacity. The memo finds that ports in British Columbia do not have sufficient capacity to handle the volumes of coal planned for Washington ports.

The state coal lobby claims that US coal exports will simply shift to BC if Washington doesn’t build its own export facilities. State officials, including even Governor Gregoire, have repeated this error. The governor said recently: “Let there be no mistake, Wyoming and Montana are going to extract their coal and they’re going to export it. The question is, does it go through Canada or does it go through Washington?”

Yet the numbers tell a different story. The truth is that even if BC’s coal ports were to devote all of their planned capacity expansions to shipping solely US coal, they could still handle only a small fraction of the coal planned for Cherry Point and Longview.

The memo also provides evidence that Puget Sound communities like Bellingham are not pre-destined to experience large numbers of coal trains. The two coal ports in southern BC could handle at most one-quarter of the volume of coal planned for export from Cherry Point, and probably much less than that.

Read the full research memo here: Coal Exports From Canada.


Update 8/16/11: In a Bellingham Herald article, rail expert Bruce Agnew agrees:

According to Agnew’s statistics, some increase in [coal] exports from Canadian terminals is in the works, but those increases won’t add up to even half the nearly 50 million tons per year that could be shipped via Gateway Pacific. He also noted that Canadian coal producers want the added capacity at Canadian ports for themselves.

BTW, Agnew says “half” because he’s apparently counting the port at Prince Rupert in northern British Columbia to make his comparison. In my blog post I say “one-quarter” because for the purposes of evaluating coal train impacts on Bellingham, I’m counting only the Westshore and Neptune terminals in southern BC. (Coal bound for Prince Rupert is likely to travel a different route.)

The point is, Agnew agrees with me that Canadian coal export facilities, even if expanded, cannot come close to handling the volumes planned for Cherry Point, and certainly not the volumes planned for other locations in Washington or Oregon.