Friday, August 12, 2011

Coal Terminal Notes: PR Battle on Particulates

Plume of smoke from ship heading out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca

While heading across the entrance to Puget Sound on the Keystone to Port Townsend Ferry run I noted a plume of exhaust smoke from a ship heading out to sea. I had seen the same ship a bit closer earlier in the day - a container ship heading out of Puget Sound between Whidbey Island and Marrowstone Island. The ship had previously been docked at either Tacoma or Seattle. 

The plume of exhaust smoke from the ship caused me to wonder how the analysis of air quality will play out out for the proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point. A group of doctors in the Bellingham area want a health assessment done on the air quality impacts from increased diesel exhaust from the increased train and ship traffic whatcom-county-doctors-want-study. I noted three issues in the response of the coal terminal spokesman in the article.

First it was clear that he was well versed in the particulate emissions in Whatcom County. He noted that locomotive exhaust makes up only 0.6% of particulate pollution and wood stoves result in 35% of the particulate pollution. He pointed out that reducing wood smoke emissions by only 2% would equal all the locomotive emissions. One could jump on that as a way of mitigating the locomotive emissions. But he did not make that suggestion. 

The second thing I noted in the spokesman's statements was he spoke of locomotive emissions and made no mention of the particulate emissions from the huge ships that would carry the coal away. Given the plume from the ship I saw the other day pictured above, this is no small issue. 

The third issue was that when talking about Whatcom County particulate emissions, the coal terminal spokesman was referring to the particulate emissions for the entire county. The point of the Whatcom County doctors concerns is that the diesel particulate emissions will be concentrated through urban areas where more trains pass through than before. So the total emissions county wide may not be significantly impacted but the doctors want to see a more focused analysis along the very areas where the emissions will be taking place. 

While much of the focus on air quality has revolved around the trains, I suspect that the ship emissions will not be a minor issue. Large transport ships can be a huge point source for air emissions. The City of Seattle requires cruise ships that call on the port to hook up to the city electric grid because of the emissions from the ships generators was so high. 

For the Cherry Point area, frequent ship traffic combined with the train locomotives will add to the air emissions already generated from the oil refineries located at the site. At this point in time, the air quality in the air shed of the Cherry Point area is good. This is in no small part been accomplished by maintaining modern oil refinery facilities including numerous upgrades. A careful analyses of the impacts of very frequent coal transport ships on the local air shed will be interesting. If the coal ships combined with the frequent locomotive traffic push the area into non attainment, the regulations will clamp down harder on all facilities in the area including the refineries. Already one of the largest if not the largest particulate emission source associated with the refineries is the pollution associated with the oil tankers that call at the two refinery piers as well as at the aluminum plant pier. And based on preliminary information the coal terminal will have much greater ship traffic.  

My final thought is that clearly the coal terminal has lost the PR war. It hardly even matters what they say at this point. If there is any PR battle left it is the silly arguments among local politicians, one of whom seems to be running for head cheer leader of the coal terminal opposition.   

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