Wednesday, October 20, 2010

California Seeks to Expand Low-Sulfur Fuel Zone Along Coast

California air regulators have put forward their plan to stop cargo vessels from avoiding the main coastal shipping route between the Channel Islands and the Santa Barbara/Ventura coast and skirting through a US Navy missile range on the west side of the Channel Islands.

Captains are taking the outer route to avoid a California Air Resources Board regulation requiring vessels within 24-miles of the coast to burn more expensive low-sulfur fuel. The Navy reports a nearly seven-fold increase in the number of vessels using the outer route and transiting through the Pt. Mugu Sea Range. The range sits mainly in international waters outside of the 24-mile CARB limit. The vessel traffic is a safety concern to the Navy, which conducts test almost every day of the year at the range, and raises the potential for disrupting missile tests.
CARB also said that the vessels taking the outer route are impacting anticipated emission reductions that were predicted to be achieved by the regulations.

CARB is now proposing to extend the 24-mile zone from the Channel Islands instead of the coast, thus placing the outer route through the missile range within the low-sulfur fuel zone. To give vessels incentive to take the coastal route, the proposed plan would also create a "window" in the northern approach area that would not be subject to the low-sulfur regulation.

The main goal of the proposed plan, according to CARB, is to recapture the emission reductions being lost as vessels take the outer route through the missile range, and to reduce traffic moving through the missile range. CARB believes that expanding the 24-mile low-sulfur zone to fully encompass the outer route will eliminate the economic incentive for vessels to deviate from the main shipping routes along the coast.

CARB estimates that vessels using the outer router typically save about $3,000 in fuel costs but experience an extra hour of transit time. By taking advantage of the northern approach "window" and using the main shipping route along the coast, CARB estimates that vessels could save $400 or more on fuel costs and shave their transit time by an hour.

Currently, about 50 percent of the vessels heading to the Southern California ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles utilize the Channel Island routes.
CARB will be holding an additional workshop on the proposal early next year. A decision is not likely until at least March, when the CARB board is set to discuss the issue.