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Ecology completes Kalama methanol greenhouse gas study
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Ecology completes Kalama methanol greenhouse gas study

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Methanol plant site

A vacant property at Port of Kalama adjoining the Steelscape is the site of a proposed $2 billion methanol plant.

The proposed $2 billion Kalama methanol plant could result in less global greenhouse gas emissions, but levels would still be “significant” even after mitigation efforts, according to the state Department of Ecology’s final analysis released Monday.

The final study’s overall conclusions are the same as a September draft, which found the project could cause a lower net reduction in emissions than previous studies had concluded.

Ecology made several revisions to the report in its final version, including increasing the estimated rate of how much natural gas would leak during extracting, processing and transporting it to the Kalama plant.

Northwest Innovation Works wants to build the $2 billion plant on land leased from the Port of Kalama. The proposed plant would convert natural gas into methanol for use in plastics manufacturing in China and would employ about 200 people, according to the company.

Ecology began the second supplemental greenhouse gas study about a year ago after it determined the analysis provided by Northwest Innovation Works and the Port of Kalama had been inadequate.

According to the new study, the proposed plant could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 5.5 to 6 million metric tons per year, compared to the 10 million metric tons concluded by the earlier environmental study by the Port of Kalama and Cowlitz County.

The plant would produce about 1 million metric tons of emissions in-state, making it one of Washington’s top 10 emitters, according to the study.

The final study confirmed the draft finding that NWIW’s plan to mitigate all in-state emissions with environmentally-friendly projects is feasible but emissions would still be deemed significant.

Although some numbers have been tweaked, the big picture of a net-decrease remains the same, said Michael Mann, consultant and former director of the City of Seattle’s Office of Sustainability and Environment.

“This greenhouse gas issue is a global issue, it doesn’t respect borders. So when we have this type of massive positive benefit in the state of Washington or or that’s realized anywhere else or caused anywhere else, there’s a global benefit,” said Kent Caputo, NWIW chief commercial officer.

Opponents contend that Ecology’s report shows the plant will significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions.

“The final report shows what we’ve known all along, that it’s a huge climate impact,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, Columbia Riverkeeper executive director. “It’s hard to imagine that Washington, a state that takes climate issues seriously, could approve a massive fossil fuel refinery.”

VandenHeuvel said the “offset theory” that the project would cause a net-decrease in global emissions by increasing emissions in lesser quantities than alternative methanol producers is too speculative.

Ecology received 4,700 public comments on the draft, said Stuart Clark, special assistant to the director of Ecology. Most were in opposition of the project because of climate change being a significant problem and a smaller number in support touted the project’s benefits to the economy, he said.

A handful of comments focused on the upstream methane leakage rate and the methanol market, Clark said.

In the final report, Ecology increased the estimated leak rate from extracting, processing and transporting the natural gas to Kalama to reflect updated science, said Neil Caudill, senior planner with Ecology’s air quality program.

The draft measured upstream leakage rates by counting different valves, equipment and provides a standard emission, Caudill said. The final study uses a newer approach by directly measuring leaks from projects and averages them out, he said.

According to the study, the methane leakage rate does matter when totaling greenhouse gas emissions but not by a significant amount.

The study presents information in various scenarios to give low, mid and high ranges to point out there is uncertainty, Clark said.

“It’s helpful for the public when there is emerging science to see that getting an absolute number is not very likely,” he said.

Predicting the methanol market comes with even more uncertainty than measuring greenhouse gas emissions, Clark said. The study acknowledges the uncertainty around it and includes various scenarios to inform people what effects the Kalama project could have, he said

Ecology now has 30 calendar days to approve, approve with conditions or deny a Shoreline Conditional Use permit.

Other permits would be required for the project to move forward, including two federal permits vacated in November.

A federal court in November vacated the federal Clean Water Act permits the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved in April 2019, sending the project back to the Corps for review.

The ruling found the Corps failed to consider the cumulative impact of greenhouse gas emissions caused by the project and ignored the new regional pipeline the project would require. It also found the Corps illegally failed to consider the costs to the public.

It’s unclear how long it may take the Corps to complete an environmental impact statement for the project, but Ecology’s study took about a year.

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