Canadian Shipper


West Coast port projects attain ‘unprecedented’ dimension

On the West Coast, home to Canada’s Asia-Pacific Gateway for trade with the fastest-growing region in the world, current port expansion projects have reached never-attained proportions, with some analysts even suggesting that it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Captain Stephen Brown, President of the Chamber of Shipping of British Columbia, categorizes 2014 as “a truly pivotal year” as project-related discussions surrounding resource development and First Nations Treaty and Land Rights claims take centre stage.

“Expansions of terminal capacity, infrastructure development and new project proposals are all moving ahead at an unprecedented pace across the length of the Asia-Pacific Gateway,” Capt. Brown told Canadian Shipper.

“These encompass the oil and gas sector, dry bulk cargoes and containers, highlighted by the proposal to build a state-of-the-art 2.4 million TEU capacity container terminal at Roberts Bank in Port Metro Vancouver with a completion date of 2024. These developments will require what is already being coined as a Phase 2 of supporting infrastructure needs as ports assess future truck, rail and marine traffic flows underpinned by proven environmental and financial sustainability.”

Ruth Sol, president of the Western Transportation Advisory Council (Westac), adds a cautionary note: “Today’s big unknown is the lengthy and costly process to get the approvals to carry out these expansions. As never before, the public must have its say, and sometimes it says no.”

Port Metro Vancouver (PMV), the biggest Canadian port with annual throughput of 124 million tonnes, constitutes Canada’s dominant player in maritime trade. The more remote port of Prince Rupert in northern British Columbia has emerged in the past few years as the fastest-growing port in the Pacific Northwest for total and container traffic. Among other ports, just partly-developed Kitimat, 210 kms south of Prince Rupert, is making strong efforts to ride a potential LNG and oil export boom.

Soon after winning the election, the Harper Conservative government introduced revamped legislation in 2006 called the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative (AGPCI) with a price tag of $590 million to be spent on a dozen infrastructure projects in both British Columbia and Alberta. This outlay was subsequently increased, and total corridor expenditures including private industry infusion for APGCI have now well exceeded $3 billion.

Canada’s trade with China-led Asia-Pacific countries amounted to $140 billion in 2012 versus $120 billion in 2010. The great bulk of this trade moves by freighters across the Pacific Ocean. And all signs point to steady increase especially of Canadian resource product exports and of imports from Asia of consumer goods.

Having sufficient container-handling capacity and other infrastructure has been a growing challenge particularly for Port Metro Vancouver, whose container cargo in 2012 rose by 8% to 2.7 million TEUs.

The port is presently in the midst of more than $700 million in road and rail projects to notably smooth the flow of traffic in and out of its terminals.

In this regard, construction began last March of a causeway overpass at Roberts Bank to separate rail and road traffic at increasingly-congested Deltaport, Canada’s largest container terminal. Completion target for the Deltaport Terminal, Road and Rail Improvement Project is late 2014.

As part of a container capacity improvement program, PMV has worked with the Province of BC and Deltaport operator TSI Terminal Systems to upgrade infrastructure to increase Deltaport’s capacity by 600,000 TEUs to 2.4 million TEUs.

Last March, too, PMV announced field studies preliminary to the proposed construction of Terminal 2, which would represent a second 2.4 million TEU terminal at Roberts Bank. Upon regulatory and environmental approval, such a big terminal would be part of a long term strategy to meet container shipping demands to 2030.

In other recent developments, Kinder Morgan announced plans to expand and twin their existing 50-year old pipeline between PMV and the Alberta oil sands. Fraser Surrey Docks is building a coal transfer facility to handle coal from the Power River Basin in the US and move it by barge to a shiploading facility on Texada Island in the Strait of Georgia for shipment to Asia. Neptune Terminals on the North Shore of Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet is boosting its coal-handling capacity to 18.5 million tonnes a year.

Robin Silvester, PMV President and CEO, has acknowledged that a growing preoccupation of the past few years has been the erosion of the port industrial land base as urban encroachment escalates. One regulatory reform that he feels should be undertaken is to replicate today’s concept of Agricultural Land Reserve through the creation of an Industrial Land Reserve.

For its part, the formerly struggling Port of Prince Rupert has clearly had the wind in its sails since launching a container terminal in 2007, benefiting from its location as the closest West Coast gateway to Asia on the Great Circle Route and from the rapid CN double-stack service to the strategic US Midwest market and beyond. Since its opening, Fairview Container Terminal has handled close to 2 million TEUs – and further capacity expansion to 2 million TEUs annually remains on the agenda.

A record 22.2 million tonnes of cargo – chiefly grain and coal – were processed through its terminals in 2012. This record is likely to be broken in 2013 when final figures are tabulated.

At an annual public meeting last June, Don Krusel, President and CEO of the Prince Rupert Port Authority, reported that in 2012 alone new infrastructure, marine terminal and expansion projects invested more than $200 million. He also affirmed that proposed projects represent the potential for about $20 billion in new terminal developments by 2020.

Next December is slated to mark the completion of the first phase of construction of Prince Rupert’s $90 million Road, Rail and Utility Corridor project.

The corridor is conceived as a catalyst for significant terminal developments being advanced through private sector investment on the Ridley Island industrial site at the Port of Prince Rupert.

This project includes the construction of five parallel rail tracks, a two-lane roadway, and a port-owned power distribution system along an 8-km corridor. It will provide shared-use infrastructure for proposed potash, LNG and other terminals on Ridley Island.

Meanwhile, the Port of Kitimat has been identified as a key potential partner in Enbridge’s Northern Gateway $6 billion pipeline project (yet to receive federal cabinet approval in Ottawa) for delivering Alberta heavy oil to Kitimat to be shipped by tanker to Asian markets. A giant 500,000 barrels-a-day refinery has been proposed to refine the bitumen shipped from the oil sands to the port. Kitimat has also received several expressions of interest from companies looking at building LNG export plants.

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