Methanol plant site

Northwest Innovation Works' $2 billion methanol plant would be built at the north end of the Port of Kalama. 

The Port of Kalama announced Wednesday that it plans to conduct an additional environmental review of Northwest Innovation Works’ proposed methanol plant. This review will include virtually every stage of natural gas and methanol production — from the early stages of natural gas extraction to the export of methanol to Asia.

The enormous, high-stakes review could help determine whether the $1.8 billion project gets greenlighted by state regulators.

The cradle-to-grave analysis, which is part of a supplemental environmental impact statement, is in response to a September ruling by the state’s shoreline hearings board that reversed two key permits.

In the ruling, the six-member board sided with Columbia Riverkeeper, the Centers for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club in concluding that the project’s original environmental impact statement did not adequately assess greenhouse gas emissions.

As a co-lead on the environmental review process, the county’s building and planning department is appealing the board’s decision in Cowlitz County Superior Court. However, the port and county are still proceeding with the supplemental EIS in an effort to avoid significant project delays.

The draft supplemental EIS will include a greenhouse gas (GHG) life cycle analysis covering the following sources of emissions:

  • Construction of the plant.
  • Direct emissions from plant operations.
  • Purchased power, including consideration of the potential sources of energy that would power the plant.
  • Natural gas production, collection, processing and transmission — including hydraulic fracking, a process that injects liquid into the ground at high pressure to extract natural gas.
  • The shipping of methanol products to Asian ports.
  • Changes in the methanol industry and related markets that may be caused by the plant.

The supplemental EIS also will identify any substantial changes to the project’s design and engineering since the first EIS was published in September 2016.

The study will evaluate whether such changes would affect any earlier analysis or conclusions set forth in the original EIS.

Northwest Innovation Works will pay for the supplemental EIS, while administrative costs to the port will likely be less than $20,000, said Liz Newman, the port’s marketing and communication director.

In its 12-page petition appealing the shoreline hearing board’s decision, the county argued that it followed the state Department of Ecology’s own guiding documents on how to evaluate greenhouse gas emissions from a major project.

The original EIS estimated that the project would emit 1.24 million metric tons of greenhouse gases annually. That’s roughly the equivalent emissions of 260,000 passenger cars, which would boost the state’s annual greenhouse emissions by 1.28 percent.

In 2008, the state Legislature set a goal of reducing Washington’s overall emissions of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by the end of this decade. Gov. Jay Inslee is urging lawmakers in Olympia to enact a statewide carbon tax during the 60-day legislative session to help meet that goal.

Environmental groups argue that the Kalama plant’s actual greenhouse gas emissions would be much larger if the entire methanol production process is considered. The original EIS only examined emissions from the project site and its immediate vicinity. It did not consider emissions from oceangoing vessels hauling methanol to Asia and from the fracking process used to extract natural gas.

“It’s critical with any kind of fracked gas project to do a life-cycle analysis because of the issues around methane emissions,” Jasmine Zimmer-Stuckey, a senior organizer with Columbia Riverkeeper, said in an interview Wednesday. “This review is much more cumulative, and I expect the numbers to be much higher.”

Representatives with Northwest Innovation Works were not immediately available for comment Wednesday, and an official with the Cowlitz County Building and Planning Department did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Northwest Innovation Works’ supporters say the plant would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by decreasing China’s reliance on coal-based methanol. The project would convert natural gas to methanol, which would be shipped to China for plastics manufacturing.

Northwest Innovation also says it will use a new technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 31 percent compared to the traditional manufacturing methods. The state Department of Ecology also would require the facility to reduce emissions by 1.7 percent annually until 2035. The project at the Port of Kalama would create 190 permanent jobs and 1,000 construction jobs, according to the original EIS.

The public is invited to comment on the scope of the draft supplemental EIS, which will supplement the final EIS published in September 2016. Public comment must be done in writing and sent via email to SEIS@KalamaMfgFacilitySEPA.com or mailed to Ann Farr at the Port of Kalama, 110 W. Marine Drive, Kalama, WA 98625.

Columbia Riverkeeper is also hosting an informational meeting about the public comment period for Kalama residents at 6 p.m. on Feb. 19 at the Kalama Community Building on Elm Street.

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