The Japanese conglomerate Mitsui and California-based Metro Ports are two of the key players in a bid to develop a coal export terminal with the Port of Coos Bay, EarthFix has learned.
The companies entered into a confidential negotiating agreement with the port in late 2011.
Environmental groups opposed to coal exportation have criticized the port’s refusal to disclose the names of its potential partners. Their outcry escalated after the agency billed the Sierra Club and Beyond Toxics nearly $20,000 to review and redact public documents. That charge has been disputed by the two environmental advocacy organizations.
If investors decide to locate an export terminal in Coos Bay to transport coal to markets in Asia, it won’t be the first time ships have docked at the Southern Oregon port to fill up with loads of coal.
The Port of Coos Bay sits on top of its own coal field about 30 miles long and 15 miles wide; so mining was an important early industry for the area.
Max Clausen, who is 80 years old, owns a large oyster farming business on a quiet inlet along Coos Bay. Clausen says his grandfather owned one of the last operating coal mines in a nearby town called Riverton. Clausen remembers visiting it as a child.
Coos Bay is one of six locations to be considered for a coal export terminal in the Pacific Northwest. With each new proposal, the debate about the health and environmental impacts of coal dust and diesel emissions has grown louder.
Port of Coos Bay officials sent EarthFix a partially redacted copy of the Port’s “negotiation and confidentiality agreement” with the companies. That document identifies “Metro-Mitsui” as the “Parties” in the agreement for the project, known as “Project Mainstay.” (Read how EarthFix learned the identities of these two companies negotiating with the port.)
Neither Metro Ports nor Mitsui officials responded to requests for interviews Tuesday.
Mitsui has dozens of international offices and subsidiaries. The company is involved in mining, oil and gas development, commodity trading and many other endeavors.
Metro Ports manages shipping terminals in California, Washington, and the Gulf Coast. It exports small loads of coal from an enclosed terminal in Long Beach, Calif. Metro Port’s parent company is Nautilus International Holding Corp.
A third unnamed company, most likely a South Korean electric utility, is partnering with Metro Ports and Mitsui in their bid for the Coos Bay export terminal.
“I can’t comment one way or the other on who the parties are that we are negotiating with because it’s all covered by the confidentiality agreement,” said David Koch, Chief Operating Officer the Port of Coos Bay.
Plans call for the amount of coal shipped out of the Port of Coos Bay to expand:
According to an email from Koch to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber’s office, the Asian utility partner wants to diversify its coal supply, replacing coal from Indonesia and other Pacific Rim countries with coal from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming.
Asian demand for low-sulfur Powder River Basin coal is driving the export terminal pursuits in the Pacific Northwest. Export terminals in British Columbia are shipping coal to Asian markets but have been unable to keep up with the growing demand across the Pacific. Clogged rail systems also have hampered the movement of the coal to the West Coast.
The email correspondence with the governor does not identify Metro Ports or Mitsui by name, but highlights the two companies’ credentials:
An international commodity trading and infrastructure investment company with:
A stevedoring/terminal company that:
Port officials said they haven’t signed any final deals with the partners. They are still studying the feasibility of building a terminal.
To export coal the Coos Bay port’s rail system and channel would require overhauls.
Correction: April 18, 2012. An earlier version of this story incorrectly credited an aerial map to David Evans & Associates. The map was created by EarthFix staff based on information obtained from the firm’s website and from public documents.
Share your experiences as part of EarthFix's Public Insight Network.