Shippers: Water is greener than landBattered for years as a carrier of invasive species, Great Lakes shipping interests are battling back with a new study showing that ships are better for the environment than their competition on land.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
Battered for years as a carrier of invasive species, Great Lakes shipping interests are battling back with a new study showing that ships are better for the environment than their competition on land.
The study, released Tuesday by the Research and Traffic Group, transportation consultants for the province of Ontario, found that Great Lakes ships are more fuel-efficient and less polluting per ton of cargo moved than trains and especially trucks.
While there has been little serious discussion of ending commercial shipping on the lakes, at least one previous report found that much of the cargo that now moves on the lakes could be moved to rail to avoid the problem of transporting invasive species from one lake to another. One 2005 study found that moving all Great Lakes shipping to land would add about $54 million to shipping costs annually but could save hundreds of millions of dollars each year in costs battling future invasive species.
But supporters of Great Lakes shipping say the environmental and social benefits of moving cargo on the lakes far outweigh the potential downside. They say the study shows good reason to keep investing in the Great Lakes system of locks, dams and ports.
Steven Fisher, executive director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association, said data from the study will help plot how much money is invested in the system and could help determine future government regulations.
“The marine industry now has the information it needs to address questions by federal and state governments on the value of shipping to its constituents,” Fisher said in a statement.
One laker = 564 rail cars
It’s always been obvious that shipping by water is cheaper for industries moving coal and iron ore. But the latest study, which looked at both the Canadian and U.S. sides of the lakes, found the Great Lakes-Seaway fleet is nearly seven times more fuel-efficient than trucks and slightly more fuel-efficient than rail — 1.14 times.
One thousand-foot laker can carry as much cargo as 564 rail cars, the study found, and 2,340 semis.
If Great Lakes cargo moved to trains it would spur a 19 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions. If all that cargo were moved to trucks, it would spur a 533 percent increase in greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.
Carrying the total cargo transported by the Great Lakes-Seaway fleet in 2010 would as much as double the existing traffic on some rail lines in Canada and require at least a 50 percent increase in traffic on some of the busiest lines in the U.S. The study also found that shifting from ships to trucks and trains would increase traffic congestion on roads.
The study also noted that the Great Lakes fleet is moving to adopt new regulations and technology — namely low-sulfur diesel engines — that will further reduce carbon emissions 32 percent, sulfur dioxide emissions by 99.9 percent, nitrogen oxide emissions 86 percent and particulate emissions by 85 percent by 2025.
“The study affirms what we already know: that we move a lot of heavy stuff and we use a lot less fuel doing it than you would on land,” Adele Yorde, communications director for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority said. “What this also shows is the emissions difference. And that difference is only going to get greater as more of the carriers refit their boats with new engines and generators and scrubbers.”
Great Lakes shipping supporters cite previous studies that found the industry supports 227,000 jobs in the U.S. and Canada, generates $35 billion in business revenue and moves 164 million metric tons of cargo annually, saving $35 billion in shipping costs.
Shipping supporters also tout developing ballast water treatment regulations as well as technologies that will be used to treat ballast water to kill many invasive species. They also note that current guidelines for saltwater ships to exchange their ballast at sea, before entering the Great Lakes Seaway system, have apparently contributed to a decline in the invasion of new species over the past several years.
“Our vessels carry more than 20 million gross tons annually, and do so using significantly less fuel per ton than it would take to move the same cargo by land-based modes,” said Mark Barker, president of the Interlake Steamship Company. With the addition of new technology and new regulation, “we see the benefits of marine shipping increase in the future.”