A recent study has revealed that harmful air emissions from large vessels are significantly lower than previously believed. Darrell Desjardin, director of environmental programs for the Vancouver Port Authority, told the Georgia Straight that emissions from oceangoing vessels from April 1, 2005, to March 31, 2006, were 35 percent lower than what was predicted by the Greater Vancouver Regional District in 2000.
"The age of the shipping fleet calling on the Port of Vancouver was a lot newer than everybody anticipated," Desjardin said.
The Chamber of Shipping of B.C., in collaboration with Environment Canada, the GVRD, and others, compiled the 2005-2006 BC Ocean-Going Vessel Emissions Inventory after examining such things as the type of fuel used, load factor, and engine power.
It showed that total sulphur-dioxide emissions in the entire study area–including all inland and territorial waters along the B.C. coast, the Juan de Fuca Strait, and coastal waters extending 50 nautical miles offshore–reached 18,413 tonnes over the study period. There were 26,500 tonnes of nitrogen oxides emitted from oceangoing vessels over the same period.
Roger Quan, manager of the GVRD's air-quality planning division, told the Straight that approximately one-third of all sulphur-dioxide emissions in the region in 2000 came from marine sources, including ocean vessels. Sulphur dioxide irritates lungs, according to the BC Lung Association, and in high concentrations it can damage leaves and agricultural crops.
Quan said that in 2000, marine sources were responsible for 22 percent of nitrogen oxides, which react with hydrocarbons and sunlight to form smog. "Overall, there has been a good collaborative effort between the industry, the port authority, and different levels of government," Quan said.
Last summer, air-quality expert Dr. David Bates, the recently deceased former dean of the UBC medical school, told the Straight that nobody had considered the impact of marine air emissions until about nine years ago, when the first comprehensive data was published concerning their impact on Los Angeles.
More recently, Delta–Richmond East Conservative MP John Cummins raised concerns about the impact that growing ports will have on the region's air quality over the longer term. "You look at the volume of goods moving out of there–and you look at the ambitions that the premier has for the Port of Vancouver–and you've got to wonder what our atmosphere is going to look like in the 10 or 15 years that it's going to take to grow that kind of business here in Vancouver," Cummins told the Straight. "I don't think anybody has given this issue the consideration that it should [receive]."
On April 1, the Vancouver Port Authority launched the "Harbour Dues Program", which rewards vessels that reduce emissions. Desjardin said that the basic fee is 0.097 cents per gross registered tonne. Vessels that qualify for "gold" status only pay 0.057 cents per gross registered tonne, whereas "silver rated" vessels pay 0.067 cents and "bronze rated" vessels pay 0.077 cents. In other words, a ship can save as much as 40 percent on its harbour dues by reducing its emissions.
"Just to give you an idea of a typical ship that's [the dues are] going to run you around $5,000 or $6,000 per vessel," Desjardin said. "We're quite pleased with the interest that this has generated in the shipping community."
Desjardin said the "biggest bang for the buck" in reducing emissions is if oceangoing vessels use low-sulphur bunker oils. The Fraser Port Authority and the North Fraser Port Authority have not created a program to reduce fees on ships with lower emissions.