Enviros’ Bunk Crusade Against Bunker Fuel

by Marc Scribner on May 20, 2011

in Blog, Features, Politics

Post image for Enviros’ Bunk Crusade Against Bunker Fuel

This issue has yet to really make a splash in the United States outside of California (which I’ll discuss below), but the European Green Police are leading the way with their next war on humanity: prohibiting ships from using bunker fuel.

Bunker fuel, also known as navy special fuel, is the bottom-of-the-barrel (literally), high-viscosity fuel used by large cruise ships, container ships, and tankers that is just slightly less viscous than the bitumen (asphalt) used to pave roads. Environmentalists hate bunker fuel because sulfur dioxide (SOx) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions are considerably more intense than those of the more refined and lighter gasoline and diesel.

While it is true that this makes bunker fuel “dirtier” than the fuel you put in your car, it is used because ships use large enough engines that are designed to handle bunker fuel and it is far cheaper due to limited demand (nearly nonexistent outside of the maritime industry).

For example, the retail price of a metric ton of 380 centistokes bunker fuel in Houston is $611. Converting per-gallon U.S. retail gasoline prices ($3.96/gallon U.S. average) to metric tons would give you a gasoline metric-ton price of $1,480.24 (42 gallons per barrel, 8.9 barrels per metric ton). If they were to pay at the pump, these ships would need to spend 145 percent more on fuel, something that is simply not economical. Requiring them to run solely on marine gas oil, which is currently $945 per metric ton in Houston, would force them to spend 55 percent more on fuel than they otherwise would. (This is an imperfect comparison given differences in density and calorific value, but still an instructive one.)

Just as consumers have seen the price of gas rise at the pump, so has the maritime industry seen huge increases in the price of bunker fuel (by more than 200 percent over the past few years). It has been estimated that as much as 80 percent of that increase has been passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices on goods.

The maritime shipping industry is the most crucial element of global trade. Besides petroleum and chemical tankers and other large cargo vessels, container ships make up a significant percentage of the world’s commercial maritime fleet. A single container ship can carry thousands of twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) containers. The Ebba Mærsk, for instance, has a cargo capacity of more than 15,000 TEU. Each of these intermodal containers is the size of a truck trailer. All of this cargo is moved with a crew of only 13.

If that’s not efficient transportation, I don’t know what is. But the greens don’t care. They would rather crush this industry, and global trade and all the benefits that trade entails, than support the world’s most efficient, environmentally friendly form of bulk cargo transport over long distances.

European environmentalists rejoiced recently when they convinced the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations’ maritime regulatory body, to ban ships using bunker fuel in the antarctic. The ban goes into effect in July. While there is very limited commercial shipping in the antarctic, this will effectively shut out many large cruise ships from these waters.

Not content with the southern pole, they moved next to try to push for an arctic ban on bunker fuel. Earlier this year, the enviros convinced the European Parliament to call on the IMO to impose a similar ban in the arctic, where there is a great deal of commercial shipping. But make no mistake: the radical environmental movement will not stop at the poles. They will not be satisfied until every port bans ships from using bunker fuel.

Leave it to the Californians to import these European “values” to America. The Golden Gold-Plated State’s Air Resources Board (CARB, the same folks responsible for California’s insane tailpipe emissions regulations) is now regulating bunker-fuel-powered vessels in their waters and is handing out fines to foreign ships who dare operate their businesses in a rational manner.

This recent spate of fines follows a terrible Ninth Circuit decision in March that upheld CARB’s authority to issue and enforce Vessel Fuel Rules, which are designed to reduce SOx and NOx particulate pollution, on ships in port or within California’s territorial waters. The California cruise ship industry, which caters to Pacific Northwest and Alaskan sightseeing tourists, will certainly be harmed. Not to mention California’s dominant position with cargo ports-of-entry. Commercial shipping in the Pacific Ocean — the world’s largest ocean, which covers nearly a third of the Earth’s surface — amounts to only about 15 percent of global maritime shipping, so we can expect this figure to further decline.

An EPA proposal to ban bunker fuel use within 200 nautical miles of the United States — which would have purportedly conformed with potential future IMO regulations — has yet to gain significant traction. But it will. The Gaia-worshipers have a lot of money, a lot of time, and a lot of hatred of humanity.

Previous post:

Next post: