The proposed $2 billion Kalama methanol plant would cause a net reduction in global greenhouse-gas emissions, according to a new environmental-impact study overseen by the Port of Kalama and Cowlitz County.
The analysis confirms the basic conclusions of a draft version of the document released last fall.
The plant would release about 1.8 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, making it the 12th-largest emitter in the state, according to the study. But the plant would lead to a decrease of carbon emissions worldwide by displacing coal-based methanol production in Asia, the intended market. The project thus could reduce global carbon emissions by 13.7 million tons annually, according to the study released Friday.
For point of comparison, that’s about 12 percent of the carbon produced annually by all the cars, factories and other sources in Washington.
That’s been the nature of proponents’ argument: Washington methanol made from cleaner-burning natural gas would slow the growth of a Chinese methanol industry based on more expensive — and much more polluting — coal-based technology.
“The science and facts laid out today make a clear and convincing case that our project in Kalama will result in a significant net reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions,” said Vee Godley, chief development officer for the project’s developer, NW Innovation Works (NWIW), in a prepared statement Friday. “Regulators called for a comprehensive review of our actual and potential emissions, and this independent analysis delivers those results.”
The report will not quiet the opposition, distressed over the advancing plan to build a giant plant along the shores of the Columbia River, a development that would increase, by roughly a third, Washington state’s annual use of natural gas.
Columbia Riverkeeper, a Hood River, Oregon, environmental organization, stated that the study “downplays the climate impacts” of the project.
“The report released today is dramatically misleading,” said Dan Serres, conservation director. “Whether for fuel or for plastic, NWIW’s project will have a tremendously negative impact on the river and our climate.”
The findings could clear the way for NWIW to obtain a critical shorelines permit for project at the Port of Kalama, which was first proposed in 2014.
“The publication of the [study] is the culmination of years of comprehensive input, careful analysis and a meticulous regulatory review process,” said Mark Wilson, Port of Kalama executive director, in a news release. “We are grateful to the many people who have helped shape this project.”
The study, formally called a final supplemental environmental impact statement, provides additional technical analysis of potential emissions, responds to comments on the draft, and provides updated information and clarifications.
It also includes a framework of NWIW’s voluntary program to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions at the plant site.
The company wants to pipe natural gas to the site and convert it to methanol, which would be shipped to Asia to make olefins for use in plastics manufacturing. The company says using natural gas as a feedstock is much cleaner than using coal.
The original environmental review of the project by the port and county found that it would have no significant adverse environmental impact. For example, no process wastewater would be discharged into the Columbia River.
The new report includes a life-cycle analysis covering emissions from the construction of the project; operation of the plant; purchased electrical power; natural gas production, collection, processing and transmission; shipping the methanol to Asia; and emissions associated with changes in the methanol industry.
Opponents of the project have voiced concerns about the methanol being used as fuel instead, which would release more greenhouse-gas emissions.
In comments on the draft study, the state Department of Ecology recommended that the final study fully evaluate both potential uses of the methanol unless the company could better demonstrate that 100% of the methanol would be used for plastics manufacturing.
The final study does not analyze effects of the methanol being used for fuel instead of for plastics manufacturing because “it is not consistent with the stated project purpose and the amended dock use agreement for use of the marine terminal does not allow for the export of methanol as fuel.”
In June, Port of Kalama commissioners approved an amendment to NWIW’s dock agreement, prohibiting exported methanol to be used for fuel. Environmental organization Columbia Riverkeeper and other critics say the lease agreement is “completely unenforceable.”
“From our perspective, the agreement is an unreliable basis for them to rule out methanol being used as fuel,” Serres said. “The port won’t be able to referee where this methanol ends up. … NWIW claims they will mitigate the full impact, but it’s meaningless if they won’t admit what full impact is.”
In May, Gov. Jay Inslee came out against the project, which he’d previously supported, stating he was no longer convinced that the project did enough to combat climate change. However, Inslee said his stance does not change the state’s regulatory process and its objective review of projects.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday morning.
Local construction trades unions have long supported the project and the president of the Longview/Kelso Building and Construction Trades Council welcomed the study results.
NWIW paid Life Cycle Associates “six figures” to complete the analysis of the project’s effect on global carbon emissions after the state Shorelines Hearings Board concluded the original climate change analysis for the plant was inadequate.
Last year, Cowlitz Superior Court Judge Stephen Warning overruled the state Shoreline Hearings Board’s September 2017 decision to invalidate the two shoreline permits that county regulators had previously granted.
Cowlitz County will use the new study to review the shoreline permits. The county must wait a minimum of seven days after publication to take action.