Business

Jump in oil exports a bright spot for port in 2012

A container ship at Deltaport. Port Metro Vancouver recorded an eight per cent increase in container shipments last year. - Port Metro Vancouver
A container ship at Deltaport. Port Metro Vancouver recorded an eight per cent increase in container shipments last year.
— image credit: Port Metro Vancouver

Crude oil exports through Port Metro Vancouver climbed 35 per cent last year – one of the few areas of hefty growth for port shipments in 2012.

The port says 50 oil tankers loaded at the Burnaby terminus of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, up from 34 the year before.

The record in a single year was 69 tankers in 2010, but that's expected to be shattered if a proposal to twin the Trans Mountain pipeline is approved, bringing up to 400 tankers a year through Vancouver harbour as soon as 2017.

Total cargo shipments through Port Metro Vancouver were up just one per cent.

Coal exports totalled 32.7 million tonnes, about 70 per cent of it for steel-making, not power production.

That was still up 0.5 per cent but less than expected because Westshore Terminals' main coal berth was knocked out of service after a ship crashed into it Dec. 6.

Potash shipments were also down because China was refusing to buy during price negotiations with Canadian exporters.

"Those two things took our growth down a little bit," Port Metro Vancouver president and CEO Robin Silvester. "Overall it was a pretty solid year."

Container traffic through the port grew eight per cent, setting a new record of 2.7 million containers shipped.

More containers destined for the U.S. were also handled and Silvester said that's a credit to ongoing efforts to make handling containers and hauling them through the Lower Mainland more efficient.

Several road and overpass projects were underway in 2012 and continue this year.Robin Silvester, president and CEO of Port Metro Vancouver

Silvester said 300 container-hauling trucks now have GPS units installed and the port aims to increase that to about 1,000, or half the fleet.

The resulting data is expected to help terminals and truckers connect more efficiently, hopefully reducing the long waits truckers often spend in lineups at container terminals.

Silvester said the GPS units will also show which trucks are using roads that aren't designated truck routes so that can be stopped.

Planning continues on the proposed Terminal 2 at Deltaport that would double container-handling capacity there.

Silvester predicts environmental permitting applications will be filed within 12 months.

He said the new container terminal will add 18,000 permanent jobs.

"It's a critically important project for the port and for the Lower Mainland and for Canada."

As for controversial plans to add coal export capacity in the region, Silvester said he's not sure when the port will decide on whether to okay a proposed new coal terminal at Fraser Surrey Docks.

"There really isn't a timeline," he said. "We'll make a decision when all the questions are answered that need to be answered."

He said there are no grounds that he sees to "rewind" the recent approval of a project to expand the export capacity of Neptune Terminals' coal facility in North Vancouver.

Environmental groups that oppose coal exports have argued the approval process was flawed.

The port's two automobile import terminals on the Fraser River brought in 380,000 new vehicles last year, a 29 per cent rebound from 2011, when Japanese car exports plunged due to that year's earthquake and tsunami.

Virtually all Asian vehicles destined for Canada arrive here.

"If you're driving an Asian-built car anywhere in Canada, right across to Newfoundland, it came in through the Fraser River," Silvester said.

While much of the oil expected to flow through the Lower Mainland in future years would be bound for Asia, 80 per cent of the crude exports last year went to the U.S., mainly California.

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