A 2017 plan for the proposed methanol plant in Kalama

A planned $2 billion methanol production facility in Kalama hit another setback late last month after the Washington State Department of Ecology ruled a key permit application was insufficient for the department to allow the project to move forward.

On Nov. 22 Ecology made the announcement that the project would need additional review before the department could make a ruling on whether or not to approve an application for a shoreline conditional use permit. That review would be the second supplemental environmental study the project will have undertaken in order to get it moving forward, alongside the first that was submitted in August by the Port of Kalama and Cowlitz County Building and Planning.

In their announcement Ecology stated that “what was submitted does not meet the threshold set by a Washington Shoreline Hearings Board ruling, and upheld by Cowlitz County Superior Court.” Those determinations found that previous study didn’t sufficiently analyse impacts of greenhouse gas emissions from the facility’s operation.

“Without sufficient analysis, we cannot fully assess the potential environmental impacts associated with the proposed methanol facility,” Ecology’s statement read. “And we cannot make a decision on the permit.”

 Northwest Innovation Works, the company behind the project, expressed frustration over the five years it had been attempting to follow the process laid out by state law to get the project moving. If completed the facility would turn methane gas into methanol which the company has stated would be used for plastics production.

Northwest Innovation Works’ chief development officer Vee Godley stated that during the process the company had been transparent while seeking feedback and making changes to the plan to improve it when they could.

“Despite the fact that the State of Washington lacks a policy to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, NW Innovation Works is helping guide our state to a lower carbon future where emissions are properly accounted for and mitigated,” Godley stated.

The company’s chief commercial officer Kent Caputo asserted that the project would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and would not add to Washington’s greenhouse gas footprint due to a “100 percent GHG neutral mitigation plan, even for emissions not directly associated with our project.”

“If it becomes necessary to prove it again, we will. We’re prepared for the long haul,” Kaputo stated.

Godley added that every year the project was delayed resulted in 10 to 12 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions that otherwise would have been removed if the project was operational.

“We will keep fighting to realize our vision of investing in the community, creating jobs, and confronting climate change,” Godley stated.

Oregon-based environmentalist group Columbia Riverkeeper said that Ecology’s ruling was a “major decision” on the project, “another major setback for the world’s largest proposed fracked gas-to-methanol refinery.”

Riverkeeper’s statement acknowledged that in October Ecology had let Cowlitz County know it felt the supplemental study did not have a “comprehensive and thorough analysis” of global and in-state environmental impacts. In response the county re-asserted that what was submitted was adequate.

“Ecology has agreed that there are significant errors and gaps in the previous analysis,” Power Past Fracked Gas Coalition Co-Director Dan Serres stated in Riverkeeper’s announcement. “We are confident that this project cannot withstand a real, thorough review. We know this proposal would be a massive generator of climate changing pollution.”

Riverkeeper’s statement also mentioned leaked documents discovered earlier this year that appeared contrary to project backers’ claims that the methanol produced would not be used as a fuel source, a possibility that wasn’t addressed in project backers’ studies.

Riverkeeper’s statement featured comments from local residents and statewide activists who were in opposition to the plant.

“Ecology’s action ... is a huge warning sign for the Kalama methanol refinery “ Washington State Sierra Club organizer Sept Gernez was quoted. “We support Ecology’s requirement for accurate information, which is critical for protecting our communities, our environment, and the survival of future generations from this massive fracked gas project and its pollution.”

“The company sought to mislead our community and regulators. Ecology is right to stand firm in seeking the facts about this project,” Kalama resident Linda Leonard stated.

In their announcement Ecology said it would be conducting a second supplemental study to address the missing information, including a “more robust lifecycle analysis of the project’s greenhouse gas emissions, and a more detailed assessment of the environmental impacts caused by those emissions.”

Though Ecology stated the analysis would be conducted “as quickly as possible,” similar reviews have taken around a year to complete.

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