Energy | Ecotrope

Coal Exports Via Seattle? More Like Canada.

Ecotrope | Feb. 14, 2012 4:38 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:32 p.m.

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Yesterday I posted some data from the Energy Information Administration that shows coal exports out of Seattle have increased over the past few years.

There is a pretty important caveat to this data, as several folks in the know have pointed out. Thanks to Peter McGraw at the Port of Seattle for being the first to flag it for me. The coal exports the EIA is reporting are traveling by rail through the Seattle Custom District (which covers a large swath of northwest Washington) to the Port of Vancouver in British Columbia. That’s where it gets handled and shipped to Asia. It’s not handled at the Port of Seattle.

Eric de Place at Sightline has launched a research project on coal exports in the Northwest, and he’s got the details down pat. As he explains on his blog:

“The Port of Seattle does not move coal. But some coal does get exported out of the Seattle Customs District region by way of the rail crossing at Blaine, Washington. It is, by all accounts, Powder River Basin coal heading to BC’s Westshore Terminal for onward shipment to Asia.”

I think the trend is worth noting – there is more coal moving through the Northwest and out to Asia. The numbers shed light on the proposals to export coal through other U.S. ports that would actually transfer Powder River Basin coal from train cars to ships. But it is important to know that the Port of Seattle is not handling the coal.

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