Ridley Coal Terminal.
astairin, cc
Ridley Coal Terminal.

This is required reading — and viewing — for anyone worried about how export terminals handle coal in reality: a jaw-dropping exposé on the pollution from Ridley Terminals at Prince Rupert, British Columbia. You absolutely must click through and see the photos collected by The Northern View newspaper in its excellent investigation of Ridley.

Here are a few of the alarming findings from the paper’s investigation into coal handling at the facility:

“There’s a certain amount of coal that sticks to the belts, and as it makes its run underneath the belt back it falls off … There’s coal just falling everywhere … Everywhere there’s a corner it just builds and falls off and jams belts, and then it falls into the ocean,” a reliable source, who has authorized access to the site, told The Northern View.

And:

Witnesses claim the dock’s containment system is laughable, consisting of pieces of wood and tarps that allow coal to either slip through the dock’s metal floor grating or through the open spaces along the rail of the dock.

And:

Another eyewitness said there have been many instances where there has been an excess of coal after loading a vessel with operators picking up the coal with the ship loader, a piece of machinery able to move in all directions, and deliberately dropping the coal into the water.

And:

… photographs obtained by The Northern View appear to show coal-laden water flowing directly into the ocean.

And:

… one source, who said there have been many occasions where equipment on the site has leaked quantities of oil, which without a proper drainage system would be leaking into the ocean, as well.

And:

William Beynon, fisheries manager of the Metlakatla First Nations, told The Northern View he and his team noticed surface fish smelt were covered in black dots upon gathering samples of surf smelt in the waters near RTI in early April.

The terminal, which bills itself as a clean and modern facility, is undergoing an expansion that will more than double its capacity. Now it’s under investigation by Environment Canada and the local port authority.

Yet the sloppiness at Ridley is not, in the end, a local story. It is a near-universal feature of coal terminals, which often visit a plague of coal dust on nearby communities and too often spill or dump coal into waterways.

Sightline has extensively documented local coal pollution at Kinder Morgan’s U.S. coal operations (also here), at B.C.’s Westshore Terminal (also here), and in Alaska, Australia, India, and South Africa, among other places. What’s happening at the coal terminal in Prince Rupert is not an isolated case of fecklessness, it’s a preview of what’s in store for the communities that would play host to big new coal export terminals.