Final environmental study for Kalama methanol facility permit released


The final version of an environmental study on the proposed $2 billion methanol production facility in Kalama has been released, with proponents pointing to plans to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from the project and its economic benefits, and those against saying such a facility would go against the state’s climate goals.

On Dec. 21 the Washington State Department of Ecology released the Second Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, a study conducted ahead of approval or denial of a key permit for the proposed project. The study found that prior work underestimated how much greenhouse gas would be emitted if the project was built, but also noted that forecasts of the global methanol market show that the facility could mitigate emissions worldwide if built.

Ecology contracted with a consulting firm to independently review what the proposed facility would mean for the global methanol market, Ecology’s release stated. Among Ecology’s key findings was that the project would lead to an increase of almost one million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year in Washington state. 

The study also concluded worldwide methanol demand would increase in the coming decades, leading to a potential for increased greenhouse gas emissions regardless if the project was built, but noted that some methanol would be used to be burned as fuel. Northwest Innovation Works, the project’s backing company, has stated all of the methanol produced there would be used for plastics production.

The study also concluded that the work going into production of methane for the project would likely produce higher emissions than previous estimates, but that emissions increases worldwide could be “potentially less” if the project was completed.

Following the release of the draft study in September Ecology received about 4,700 comments, which the department used to make a number of revisions to the draft document. Those included increasing the upstream natural gas leak rate in the study, which was the result of extracting, processing, and transporting methane to Kalama, “to reflect the best available science,” Ecology’s release stated, as well as determining that out of state emissions resulting from methane coming into the facility and methanol going out to China were part of the project’s significant impacts.

Ecology has 30 days from Dec. 21 to approve or deny the use permit that required the study, the release stated. It noted that several other permits at the local, state and federal levels would need to be approved for the project to break ground, referencing a recent decision in federal court to strike down permits already granted at that level. The judge’s November decision directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete additional study before the permits could be re-approved.

Following Ecology’s release of the final study, Northwest Innovation Works looked toward parts of it that the company says show how the proposed facility would meet economic needs and environmental goals. 

In their own release the company pointed to a part of the review where it stated that “Ecology finds it is feasible to mitigate in-state (Kalama methanol facility) related (greenhouse gas) emissions.” The review also noted that there would be the creation of a board consisting of community, tribal, environmental and government members to set projects that would to that end.

Northwest Innovation Works General Counsel Kent Caputo said in the release that if completed, the refinery would be “a model for new standards of environmental stewardship.”

“Our mitigation commitments are the first standard of this kind in Washington State; we aim to be a model,” Caputo said, noting specifically that there would be an implementation board for greenhouse gas mitigation. 

Northwest Innovation Works Chief Development Officer Vee Godley pointed to the economic side of the project, which he said would result in roughly 1,400 jobs in the three years of construction. He added that yearly tax revenues from the project would range from $30 million to $40 million.

“With sales tax and local spending, this will bring $1.2 billion into the region,” Godley said in the release.

Opponents of the plan maintained that the project would be a detriment to Washington state’s climate goals. In a release from groups including the Washington Environmental Council, the Sierra Club, and Columbia Riverkeeper, opponents pointed to the increased state emissions and the fact that previous estimates of greenhouse gas emitted through the life cycle of the project’s required processes, were lower than what was likely.

"This final study shows what most Washingtonians already knew: in the middle of a climate emergency, building the world's largest fracked gas-to-methanol refinery is the last thing we need," Sierra Club Northwest Campaign Representative and Co-Director of the Power Past Fracked Gas Coalition Stephanie Hillman said in the release.

Columbia Riverkeeper Conservation Director Dan Serres said that the project would be “stunningly out of step” with Washington state’s environmental agenda.

 “Governor Inslee and Ecology must reject this proposal and protect Washington’s future, and this study shows why,” Serres said in the release.