Port of Seattle study shows NW port shipping more ‘green friendly’

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer | 8/24/2010

The Port of Seattle is publicizing a study that shows shipments coming from Asia to the United States create less carbon emissions if they’re taken to a West Coast port – and particularly to Seattle.

Emissions are greater, the study says, if shipments are taken on routes through the Panama Canal and into ports at Savannah, GA; Norfolk, VA; and New York.

The study was released in May 2009 by Herbert Engineering, a transportation consulting firm. The study was commissioned by the Port of Seattle, which is rolling out a series of truck requirements as part of its “Clean Air Strategy.”

“Seattle is closer to Asia than any other U.S. port, resulting in shorter ocean transit times and lower fuel consumption on the ocean leg of the journey,” the Port of Seattle’s website states.

The Herbert study examined shipments from Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore to Chicago, Coumbus and Memphis by ship and train through ports at Prince Rupert, Seattle, Oakland and Los Angeles/Long Beach. Those routes were compared with shipments taken from Asia through the Panama and Suez Canals to ports at Houston, Savannah, Norfolk, and New York. The study also took into account the next expansion of the Panama Canal, slated for 2014.

According to the study, cargo moving by ship creates less carbon dioxide emissions than rail transportation when travel distances are equal. However, because ports in the Puget Sound region are closer to Asian ports than the East coast ports, “this more than offsets the detrimental impact of the longer rail distances from the West Coast ports,” the study reads.

The study states that carbon emissions are about 41 percent less when moving a shipping container between Shanghai and Chicago via the Port of Seattle compared to going through the Panama Canal and shipping to ports near New York/New Jersey.

Other findings from the study include:

  • Shipping to the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach creates the least amount of emissions when shipping from Asia to Memphis.
  • “Terminal operations and drayage emissions are not a major contributor to total intermodal transport emissions,” the report stated.
  • The Panama Canal expansion will allow larger container ships to go from Asia to East Coast ports, cutting average emissions per container unit. That emissions reduction, however, won’t make up for several advantages West Coast ports will continue to have.

On Jan. 1, 2011, Seattle will require trucks entering the city’s port to be compliant with 1994 model year engine emissions standards. Also by that time, all trucks serving the ports’ container terminals must be registered with the port’s drayage truck registry.

By 2015, 80 percent of trucks making port calls must meet 2007 model year engine standards, and that figure rises to 100 percent by 2017.

According to a 2008 report, at least 75 percent of trucks making port calls at the ports of Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver had 1994 or newer model year engines.

Port leaders told Land Line earlier this summer that long-haul truckers drive newer trucks than local drayage operators.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer

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