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A 4-million mt coal export terminal could begin operations by the fall of 2015 after the Vancouver, British Columbia, port authority on Thursday approved a project permit for Fraser Surrey Docks.

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The approval means FSD can begin construction planning, with a goal to start operations in the fall of 2015.

"Over the past two years, a significant amount of work and a number of comprehensive studies have gone into ensuring this project is safe and that concerns raised were addressed," FSD President and CEO Jeff Scott said in a statement. "We're pleased that Port Metro Vancouver has granted the permit, and we will now begin moving toward construction."

The decision is sure to be welcomed by Powder River Basin producers, who want to sell more coal to Asia, but have been constrained by a lack of export capacity on the West Coast.

There are three coal export terminals operating in Canada, but most are operating at capacity. In the US, there are only two relatively small terminals in Stockton and Long Beach, California.

Arch Coal and Cloud Peak Energy have already signed commitments to ship PRB coal through FSD, according to a market source, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified.

Arch, Cloud Peak and Signal Peak Energy are among the US thermal producers who already export coal through British Columbia's s three existing terminals -- Westshore and Neptune in Vancouver and Ridley Terminals in Prince Rupert.

In 2012, the three terminals combined to export 27.7 million mt of metallurgical coal and 13 million mt of thermal coal.

Proposed terminals in Oregon and Washington state would add roughly 100 million mt of capacity on the US West Coast, but the projects are still in the early stages of a permitting process that is likely to drag into 2018 or later, according to industry sources.

The state of Oregon earlier this week denied a construction permit to the proposed Morrow Pacific project.

Similar in size to the Fraser Surrey Docks proposal, the Morrow Pacific terminal would ship PRB coal from a rail terminal in Oregon down the Columbia River.

Ambre Energy, the primary backer of the Morrow Pacific project, said after the decision that the companies is exploring opportunities to appeal the state's ruling.

--Andrew Moore,
--Edited by Jeff Barber,