In the world of coal exports, being secretive is the name of the game. But that can last only so long.
Already with sights set squarely on proposed coal port sites in Longview, Wash., and Ferndale, Wash., two more possible coal port locations have hit the rumor mill and the ire of environmental groups. And this time Oregon is getting in on the black-dust bandwagon.
A variety of media reports and environmental group claims show coal companies looking for ways to turn the Port of Morrow near Boardman, Ore., in eastern Oregon and the Port of St. Helens into coal sites, turning trainloads of popular Powder River Basin coal into bargeloads of coal bound for Asia.
The Port of Morrow has already signed a one-year lease option with Ambre Energy of Australia, which theoretically allows the company to offload coal brought via trains from Montana and Wyoming and ship it down the Columbia River.
The deepening of the Columbia River shipping channel last fall has seemingly opened the door for small ports along the river.
Now, the Port of St. Helens has four locations to accommodate a dry bulk goods terminal. The Columbia Riverkeeper environmental group based in Hood River, Ore., claims the Port of St. Helens hasn’t cooperated with public-records requests for documents relating to coal terminals, citing the inability to discuss the information based on confidentiality agreements.
While the port would neither confirm nor deny its interest in coal, the port is involved in discussions on the possibility. Of course, any action would first be subject to a public hearing and needed permit applications.
But with the Asian demand for coal at such a premium, don’t expect one deal to negate another. Longview, Ferndale and the two most recent ports involved in the discussions may be just the start, as more ports look at ways to boost lease revenues.
In Longview, Millenium Bulk Terminals has pulled its initial application in Cowlitz County because of the information leak showing that the company planned on exporting more coal than the 5.7 million tons per year originally announced. But Millennium plans to submit a new application later this year.
The Gateway Pacific Terminal in Ferndale, despite some heavy local opposition—and plenty of local support, too—has started in on its early permit process.
Currently, Powder River coal isn’t shipped out of the United States, but from three different spots in Canada. The largest, in Delta, B.C., sits mere miles north of Ferndale and SSA Marine’s proposed terminal that could then ship 24 million tons annually.
Of course, coal exports aren’t for every port, as Portland and Tacoma have already gone on record saying they have no interest. But plenty of other places do have interest, which will keep the coal rumors flying into the future.