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In Depth

Science
| 11/20/14

Ship traffic quadruples in two decades

TCE

In 2007, a scientist using advanced satellite observations to track icebergs discovered that the observations also captured ship tracks. Almost a decade later, that dataset shows that maritime traffic in the world’s oceans has increased fourfold in the last 20 years, and is still accelerating. Traffic increased 60 per cent from 1992 to 2002, and in 2011 alone it increased 10 per cent.

The only region where traffic declined was off the coast of Somalia due to piracy concerns. Citing a rise in international trade and the size of fleets, the study is the first to track ship movement on a global scale. But this booming traffic means booming emissions. Along with noise pollution, increasingly known to be harmful to marine life, shipping is responsible for about 3.5 to 4 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, as well as 18-30 per cent of global nitrogen oxide pollution––which increased by 50 per cent over the busiest shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean––and nine per cent of sulphur dioxide pollution.

Canada’s West Coast has escaped this maritime traffic jam, but with several pipelines in development as well as extensive plans for LNG in the North, BC may see a spike in ship traffic off its coast in the coming decades. How much, exactly? In 2011, there were18,500 inbound vessels at Canadian West Coast ports. According to Kinder Morgan, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would increase that number by 444 per year; Enbridge’s Northern Gateway (NG) pipeline would usher in about 220 vessels a year. These projects would use a combination of Aframax class vessels, each of which in a normal operating year emits about 46,400 tonnes of CO2e, Suez-max tankers that emit more than 50,000 tonnes each year, and Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCC)s that annually emit over 80,000 tonnes each. If LNG development proceeds at various ports including Kitimat, Prince Rupert and Howe Sound, tanker traffic will increase still further. The LNG Canada project alone expects between 170 and 350 trips a year and two to five such projects are considered likely to be built. Thus, millions of tonnes of GHGs beyond BC’s current greenhouse-gas output will be emitted annually by the additional shipping activity, along with additional emissions of nitrogen and sulphur compounds. It is worth noting that these additional emissions will not be subject to the BC carbon tax: under current BC law no tax is applied to fuel used for interjurisdictional transport.

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