UPDATE: Crude petroleum shipments through Vancouver up 150.9%

Prince Rupert saw 411% jump in energy product volumes

GCT Vanterm | Photo: Chung Chow

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority has seen a 1.1% decrease in overall cargo for the first six months of 2020 compared with last year, while seeing new mid-year records for bulk and containerized grain, and total foreign tonnage and foreign exports.

The biggest gain in the period was crude petroleum which saw 150.9% growth – from 591,547 million metric tonnes (MMT) for the first half of last year to 1,484,091 MMT this year.

Further north, the Port of Prince Rupert saw a 411% jump in movement of energy products.

Vancouver port authority CEO Robin Silvester said crude movement rises and falls over time and depends whether or not crude is moving to the Trans Mountain Pipeline Burnaby terminal for tanker shipment or continues on in the pipeline to Washington State refineries.

“Last year, more went to the U.S.,” he said. “2018 was more tankers.”

For the period in 2019, there were eight tankers of varying sizes. In 2020, there were 20 tankers. 

“It jumps up and down,” Silvester said.

By monthly volume, 10.7 MMT moved in January peaking in March at 13.16 MMT, a month up 11% over 2019. Some 12.25 MMT moved in June, a 6.6% drop over 2019.

Vancouver does not have oil-by-rail capacity, Silvester said.

Overall, Vancouver cargo dropped from 72.4 to 71.7 MMT over the same time last year, the port’s mid-year report said.

Further the port said, despite global shipping challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, cargo volumes have remained stable and Canada’s trade has continued to flow.

“As we’ve seen from previous economic downturns, trade is generally well-positioned to rebound strongly,” Silvester said. “In container trade, we are already seeing monthly volumes recover when compared to the same month in 2019, and the demand for goods shipped in containers continues to be projected to grow going forward.”

Silvester said in an interview that the port has remained resilient in the face of the pandemic which has had less of an impact than the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.

Details of the report are:

  • Containers down 7.7% to 1.6 million 
  • Twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) imports decreased 4.0% to 824,180 TEUs. 
  • TEU exports decreased 11.6% to 740,298 TEUs. 
  • Breakbulk cargo decreased 17.1% to 7.3 MMT.
  • Woodpulp increased 13.6% compared to 2019
  • Log volumes decreased 23.3%. 
  • Bulk dry cargo increased 0.2%. 
  • Coal volumes decreased 4.1% 
  • Whole grain volumes are up 11.4%, 
  • Potash down 6.7%;
  • Sulphur up 5.7%; 
  • Bulk liquid tonnage up by 35.1% over mid-year 2019 due to a 41.7% increase in petroleum products and a 21.3% increase in canola oil; and 
  • Cruise passenger traffic on hold until Oct. 31.

Silvester said the pandemic and its economic impacts make short-term predictions difficult.

“Despite these challenges, mid-year cargo volumes through the Port of Vancouver remained stable and Canada’s trade has continued to flow, connecting Canadians and Canadian businesses to essential goods and international markets,” he said.

Silvester said container volumes began to decline with the disruption to manufacturing in China in March. The North American lockdown then reduced consumer product demand, he said.

“We seem to be coming out of that now,” he said.

The report said strong global demand for Canadian grain resulted in a new mid-year record of 16.3 MMT for both bulk and containerized grain, up 10.4% or 1.5 MMT.

Total foreign tonnage and foreign exports resulted in mid-year records of 57.7 and 49.7 MMT, up 1.2% and 2.1% respectively, due to strong increases in grain, petroleum, chemicals and canola oil volumes. 

Increases in wheat, up 7.5%, canola, up 25.6%, and specialty crops, up 10%, contributed to this new record. In fertilizers, potash exports decreased by 6.7% from last year’s record and sulphur increased by 5.7%. 

Between Jan. 1 and June 30, several sectors experienced declines as a result of weather conditions, trade challenges, cancelled sailings, railroad blockades and the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

With the cruise season on hold until at least October, the port is looking ahead to 2021.

Silvester said a key part of the authority’s work is to advance critical infrastructure required for port growth. To that end, he said, the port authority is partnering to lead development of more than $1 billion worth of infrastructure projects to strengthen its competitiveness as a West Coast trade hub and support a more fluid supply chain through the port.

To accommodate growing trade in containers, the port authority is currently leading two container terminal projects and has partnered with government and industry to invest in a number of road, rail and other infrastructure projects. 

Once completed, the Centerm Expansion Project will be able to accommodate a 65% increase in container traffic by having added only 15% more land, along with a terminal reconfiguration. 

The proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project, which, if approved, would add nearly 50% more container capacity to the port.

The Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project is designed to meet Canada’s long-term trade demands, well beyond the mid-to late-2030s, making it a critical generational project. Both projects are needed to meet the forecasted demand for trade of goods in containers.

SIlvester said the project remains in the environmental assessment phase with regulators having extended the time the port needs to work on environmental impact mitigation measures.

Despite the current downturn, he said the project remains necessary given long-term growth projection and demand.

Prince Rupert

For the same period, compared with 2019, Port of Prince Rupert saw a 41% increase in energy product movement through Ridley Terminal. The most substantial is a jump of 411% increase in liquefied petroleum gas from 109,966 tonnes to 562,042 tonnes. That can be attributed to the addition of propane volume from the AltaGas Ridley Island Propane Export Terminal, which has been operating for just over a year.

Thermal coal jumped from 1,409,996 tonnes to 2,548,431 tonnes. Metallurgical coal rose 14% from 2,595,638 tonnes to 2,969,144 tonnes.

Prince Rupert saw a decline in TEUs, dropping 13% from 550,088 to 480,427 units.

Logs were off 11%, canola down 28 % and wheat dropped 19%. Wood pellets, however, rose 23%.

Cruise activity was halted while ferry usage fell by half.