In a major step for the proposed methanol project, the Port of Kalama and Cowlitz County released the final environmental impact statement for Northwest Innovation Works Friday morning.
The massive document will be used as resource for regulators in making decisions on whether to issue permits for the $1.8 billion project, which has been subject to some late opposition this year.
The final environmental impact statement (EIS) arrived about six months after the draft study was released on March 3.
“We needed these final reports to proceed with the permits, so it’s really an important step. We feel like it does a great job answering the questions we received from the public,” said Liz Newman, marketing manager for Port of Kalama. “I hope the public takes a look and ... We really do encourage people to ask questions.”
The EIS estimates that the project would create 192 permanent jobs, 1,000 construction jobs, an annual payroll of $21 million and $36 million in taxes yearly.
Chinese-backed Northwest Innovation Works would convert natural gas to methanol on about 90 acres of land at the Port of Kalama. The methanol would be shipped to China and converted into olefins, a primary component of plastics. A 3.1-mile natural gas pipeline, owned by Northwest Pipeline LLC, would supply the plant.
The study evaluates a number of potential impacts: For example, its says the only water discharged to the Columbia River will be cooling water that will be chilled to river temperature before release. The plant will emit toxic chemicals to the air, but they will be in concentrations so low as to be non-detectable off the plant site except for diesel fumes. Water use would be high — 5 million gallons daily — but would only tap about a third of the Port of Kalama’s water rights. There would be “very limited” potential for odors. Under the preferred production method, the plant would need 100 megawatts of electricity, adding a big boost to Cowlitz PUD’s current 600-megawatt load.
“A lot of hard work has gone in this document and a lot of science. It shows you how safe this project is going to be,” said Richard DeBolt, spokesman for Northwest Innovation Works.
The project’s key opponents with Columbia Riverkeeper said the port hasn’t disclosed the full impacts of the plant. They also said the study doesn’t include a viable plan for treating industrial wastewater.
“The port failed to disclose the huge air and water pollution impacts to Kalama and our region. The world’s largest methanol refinery would use untested technology to produce chemicals for Asia. The public deserves a full disclosure of the impacts of methanol,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director for Hood River, Ore.-based Columbia Riverkeeper.
The group hasn’t decided yet whether it will appeal the study, VandenHeuvel said. The public has up to 20 days to appeal the final EIS to the Cowlitz County Hearing Examiner.
Within the final study are nearly 600 pages of public comments about the draft EIS. Officials analyzed and grouped together the comments by theme and included responses to all of the questions and concerns in a separate chapter.
A number of commentators raised concerns that the project would increase demand for natural gas extracted with the controversial fracking method. The study acknowledges that it is likely that at least some portion of the natural gas used would come from wells developed using fracking techniques. However, the project would “not necessarily lead to the development of new wells.”
Northwest Innovation Works is considering two types of methanol manufacturing processes: either a traditional combined reformer technique or a new ultra-low emissions (ULE) process. The newer ULE technology would result in a 31 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to the traditional CR technology, according to the EIS.
Northwest Innovation initially planned to use the CR process but it is now leaning toward the ULE process. Depending on the method, there would be between 1.24 million and 1.53 million tons greenhouse gas emissions released from the plant annually. An additional 3,900 tons of greenhouse gases from tug boats and freighters annually in Washington waters, or about the same as 800 family cars.
Relying on natural gas rather than coal to make methanol also cuts down on potential greenhouse gas emissions.
The final EIS does not have a cradle-to-grave analysis of greenhouse gas emissions: for example, it doesn’t estimate how much carbon dioxide would be emitted by extracting the gas or shipping the methanol overseas. However, consultants added a section about the indirect emissions, such as methane leaks in pipelines and wells.
Several commentators also worried about discharging treated cooling water into the Columbia River. The final study introduces the possibility of a zero liquid discharge system which would result in no wastewater discharge into the river. If the zero discharge option were not developed, the plant would cool wastewater to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, the ambient temperature of the Columbia River. It would release about 407 gallons per minute of cooling water into the river.
Many commentators also worried about high water use at the plant: The final EIS actually increases the estimate for how much water the facility would use to about 5 million gallons a day, up from 4.85 million in the draft EIS. The plant would use 3,440 gallons of water per a minute, compared to the port’s ability to supply 10,450 instantaneous gallons per minute.
“Certification of the water rights by Ecology demonstrated that the maximum pumping rate would have a negligible effect on the alluvial aquifer and subsequently on the Columbia River and would not have a significant impact on existing or proposed water rights or users,” the final EIS said.
Yet the modifications to final study likely won’t sway opponents.
“I and many of my neighbors oppose this project because of its huge potential to harm the health and safety of our community. The Port’s analysis fails to address many of our concerns, such as pipeline impacts. And the toxic and greenhouse gas pollution of the project will be huge, but the Port downplays that, too,” said John Flynn, Kalama resident, in a press release from Columbia Riverkeeper. “As someone who lives in Kalama, I don’t buy that we should take on these risks and impacts. Kalama shouldn’t be a sacrifice zone to send methanol to China.”