About a year from now, an upgraded, vastly expanded and improved Panama Canal will open its gates. Making their way through the canal itself will be eastward- and westward-traveling ships once this happens – not unlike what is transpiring presently. A key difference, however, will be in regard to ship size and numbers. Presumably, the numbers of vessels transiting through will rise.
Those stateside ports, meanwhile, whose dock-side waters are too shallow to receive the larger ships but anticipate doing so, are either in the process of dredging such locations or will be shortly. All these goings-on, presumably, will result in a shift in goods-movement dynamics which will mean less port-based train and drayage activity and, correspondingly, fewer train and truck moves.
When next year rolls around and with a consequent shift in ship, train- and truck-movement dynamics, domestic rail- and road-traffic will no doubt be affected. It may be less; it will obviously be different.
As it has to do with trans-ocean shipping, bulk and containerized cargoes rule. Now enter intermodal freight delivery. Intermodalism involves at minimum two haulage modes and sometimes more depending on cargo or lading being shipped, an example of which would be shipment of trans-Pacific containers thus requiring berthing at ports in both American and Asian nations.
In America, for instance, docking container ships at a West Coast port might involve containers being off-loaded and then reloaded onto railroad flatcars for forwarding – by train, of course – elsewhere; say, somewhere domestically, or to another port even, say, one on the East Coast where said container train-flatcar off-loading and subsequent container ship on-loading would be necessitated. On the other hand, access to and movement through an expanded Panama Canal could render the entire ship-to-train and train-to-ship container-transfer process unnecessary. And, by virtue of this, highly evident is that shipping dynamics in this regard would indeed be altered.
Now, when it comes to emissions-reductions, what, if any, advantage is there in shipping via an all-ship move?
To help put things in context, consulted was the European Environment Agency (EEA) report: The contribution of transport to air quality – TERM 2012: Transport indicators tracking progress towards environmental targets in Europe.
In TERM 2012, the EEA reported: “Using current fuel sales data as a proxy for estimating total transport energy consumption in 2011, it appears that transport energy consumption increased by 0.1 % compared to 2010; however, this is still 4.3 % lower than its peak in 2007. Combined energy use for aviation, rail and shipping has [been] reduced by 5.2 % between 2007 and 2011. The greatest reduction was for domestic navigation (10.2 %), followed by aviation (5.7 %) and rail (5.3 %). Road transport represents the largest energy consumer, accounting for 72 % of total demand in 2011. It has also been the least affected by the economic downturn, falling by only 3.9 % between 2007 and 2011.”1
Moreover, according to the EEA and also from the TERM 2012 report, international maritime transport greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions rose from slightly more than 100 million tonnes in 1990 to slightly less than 200 million tonnes in 2006, an increase of almost 100 percent. GHG emissions from international maritime transport held steady until 2009 when such started a downward descent, a decline that continued till at least 2010, the last year for which such data is available. It should be noted, however, between 1990 and 2010, international maritime transport GHG emissions increased by 34 percent.2
Meanwhile, from “Figure 4.1 The contribution of the transport sector to total emissions of the main air pollutants in 2010 (EEA-32),”3 the transport contributions by pollutants listed are as follows:
- Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) – 58%
- Non-Methane Volatile Organic Compounds (NMVOC) – 18%
- Sulfur Oxides (SOx) – 21%
- Primary Particulate Matter (PM2.5) – 27%
- Carbon Monoxide (CO) – 30%
- Particulate Matter (PM10) – 22%
More specifically and also from Figure 4.1, for NOx,4 whereas “non-transport sectors” account for 42 percent of emissions, exhaust NOx from other transport types (road, rail, domestic and international shipping and domestic and international aviation, respectively) have the following percentages:
- Road transport – 33
- Railways – 1
- Domestic shipping – 4
- International shipping – 15
- Domestic aviation – 1
- International aviation – 4
(For other transport emissions percentages, see below illustration).
Please note also sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions in the ocean-going-vessel domain are considerable.5
For more on maritime issues, you might like: “Making waves – Part 4: On improvement, U.S. ports getting down to business,” “Port of Long Beach furthers energy efficiency, sustainability with new policy,” “L.A. port on track toward more sustainable future with ‘E-MAP’,” “EU seeks approval of proposed reductions of large ships’ carbon dioxide emissions” and “Fuel-cell study testing seaport-application-practicability waters.”
- The contribution of transport to air quality – TERM 2012: Transport indicators tracking progress towards environmental targets in Europe, “Box 2.2: TERM 01: Transport final energy consumption by fuel – Transport energy consumption (EEA – 32 excluding Iceland and Liechtenstein),” EEA Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM) report, No. 10, 2012, European Environment Agency, Nov. 27, 2012, p. 15, http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/transport-and-air-quality-term-2012.
- Ibid, “Box 2.3: TERM 02: Transport emissions of GHGs – EU-27 transport emissions of GHG,” EEA Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM) report, No. 10, 2012, European Environment Agency, Nov. 27, 2012, p. 16.
- Ibid, “Figure 4.1 The contribution of the transport sector to total emissions of the main air pollutants in 2010 (EEA-32),” EEA Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM) report, No. 10, 2012, European Environment Agency, Nov. 27, 2012, p. 34.
- Ibid, “4: Air policy review and transport,” EEA Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM) report, No. 10, 2012, European Environment Agency, Nov. 27, 2012, p. 32.
Images: Top: United States Coast Guard; Middle: William Grimes
– Alan Kandel