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Heavy Traffic Still Ahead

Posted by Content Coordinator on Friday, February 21st, 2014


Figure 4 - Casselton, North Dakota Oil Train DerailmentThe Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) is a regional network of grassroots community organizations with 10,000 members and 38 local chapters. WORC member organizations are: Dakota Rural Action; the Dakota Resource Council; the Northern Plains Resource Council; Oregon Rural Action; the Powder River Basin Resource Council; and the Western Colorado Congress. WORC’s mission is to advance the vision of a democratic, sustainable, and just society through community action. WORC is committed to building sustainable environmental and economic communities that balance economic growth with the health of people and stewardship of their land, water, and air resources.

WORC is concerned about the potential impacts associated with the recent and projected significant increases in U.S. coal exports and related railroad shipments. In July, 2012, WORC published “Heavy Traffic Ahead – Rail Impacts of Powder River Basin Coal to Asia By Way of Pacific Northwest Terminals” (HTA 2012), which addressed these issues.

Heavy Traffic Ahead highlighted the fact that major energy companies, such as Ambre Energy (Ambre), Arch Coal (Arch), Cloud Peak Energy (Cloud Peak) and Peabody Energy (Peabody), and major transportation companies, such as Berkshire Hathaway’s subsidiary BNSF Railway, Inc. (BNSF), Union Pacific Corporation (UP), SSA Marine and others, are actively engaged in projects to move significant volumes of coal from current and proposed mines in the Powder River Basin (PRB) in Montana and Wyoming to existing and proposed Pacific Northwest (PNW) export coal terminals.

These major energy and transportation companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars and plan to spend hundreds of millions more on a variety of projects to expand the U.S. coal exports market in order to compensate for recent and projected declines in domestic coal markets and to take advantage of the growing Asian coal market.

These companies have encouraged and worked directly with Federal and State authorities to direct and spend hundreds of millions more of public money to improve related privately-owned transportation infrastructure. The State of Washington, for example, plans to spend over $800 million (mostly from Federal grants), on railroad infrastructure improvements, most of which will be directed to improvements of BNSF’s existing infrastructure in Washington to improve passenger rail service, but which will also facilitate potential export coal rail movements.

Currently, three PNW export terminals, all in British Columbia (BC), handle significant volumes of coal: Westshore Terminals (Westshore) near Roberts Bank, BC, approximately 20 miles south of Vancouver, BC; Neptune Terminal (Neptune) near North Vancouver, BC; and Ridley Terminals (Ridley) in northern BC near Prince Rupert, BC. Historically, these Canadian export coal terminals have handled primarily Canadian metallurgical coal. However, these Canadian export terminals are proposing to significantly expand their coal export capacities, in part to handle growing perceived demand for PRB export steam coal.

Figure 1 Summary of Potential PRB to PNW Export Coal Movements (Millions of Short Tons)

Download full version (PDF): Heavy Traffic Still Ahead

About the Western Organization of Resource Councils
“WORC is a regional network of grassroots community organizations that include 10,000 members and 35 local chapters. WORC helps its member groups succeed by providing training and coordinating issue work.”


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