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The Westshore coal Terminal in Delta, B.C. April 23, 2013.

JEFF VINNICK/The Globe and Mail

A group opposed to the increased shipping of coal from the West Coast is demanding to know the location of a major new bulk loading terminal that has been proposed by an Australian company.

"I would like to know where it's proposed for and why the public hasn't heard about it," Kevin Washbrook of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change said Wednesday about plans by County Coal Ltd. to build a new facility somewhere in British Columbia.

The company, which is based in Sydney, issued a shareholder update recently in which it announced two new coal terminals are in the works, one somewhere in B.C. and the other in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

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"The Canadian terminal is located at a greenfields industrial site that can accommodate Capesize (+150,000wt) vessels for the export of coal and bulk commodities from North America to the Asian market," the company states. Capesize ships are so called because they are too big to pass through the Panama Canal.

Mr. Washbrook said a "greenfields industrial site" would be one that has not traditionally been associated with industry.

The company could not immediately be reached for comment, but in the shareholder update it states that details on the proposals are being withheld for the time being.

"The commercial and political sensitivity of these projects restricts the amount of information County can release, but the Company hopes to be in a position to release more details in the coming months," it states.

The shareholder update says the proposed terminals in Canada and the U.S. are located on existing rail lines, and an accompanying map shows Prince Rupert and Vancouver as "potential shipping ports" in B.C. The proposed B.C. terminal would be capable of handling 20 million tonnes of coal annually.

Michael Gurney, manager of corporate communications for the Prince Rupert Port Authority, said officials don't typically comment on proposals until they have been announced formally, but he added that Ridley Terminals Inc. is currently meeting all the coal export requirements of the port.

A representative for Port Metro Vancouver couldn't be reached for immediate comment.

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The County Coal shareholder update states that engineering studies and an environmental impact study are now being done, and a project description "is almost ready to submit to the government."

County Coal owns two mines in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, which is the largest coal-mining region in the U.S. The shareholder update says the proposed bulk export terminals "could potentially unlock the value" of those Powder River Basin mines – which contain an estimated 730 million tonnes of coal.

Mr. Washbrook said mining and exporting such a large amount of coal has worrying implications for the global environment. "Powder River Basin is all low-grade thermal coal," he said. "So all of the arguments apply as far as concerns for the climate."

Mr. Washbrook's group has been leading the opposition in B.C. to the expansion of two existing coal-loading terminals in Port Metro Vancouver. Those two terminals combined, however, have about half the capacity of the one proposed by County Coal.

"Wow," said Mr. Washbrook when he first heard about the Australian proposal. "This is entirely new. It hasn't been on anyone's radar, but it sure is now."

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