science environment

Columbia River Methanol Plant Gets Approval On Two Washington Permits

By Tony Schick (OPB)
Portland, Oregon June 8, 2017 11:05 p.m.
A grain ship on the Columbia River at the Port of Kalama, which could one day also host a methanol plant.

A grain ship on the Columbia River at the Port of Kalama, which could one day also host a methanol plant.

Ashley Ahearn, KUOW/EarthFix

Washington state regulators approved two permits Thursday for a proposed plant that would make and export methanol along the Columbia River in Kalama.


The Washington Department of Ecology approved a permit allowing the Port of Kalama and its partner Northwest Innovation Works  to build on the shoreline. The permit was previously stalled because the state found some of the proposed site plans were out of date and missing key information, and that the applicants underestimated greenhouse gas emissions.

Ecology also granted a certification stating it would comply with the federal Clean Water Act.

NW Innovation Works said in a statement it was "grateful" for Ecology's decision to approve the shoreline permit.


“While we evaluate the stringent conditions added to the permit, we will continue to lead the industry by creating and implementing innovative clean technologies that meet the global demand for methanol in an environmentally responsible way,” the statement read. “Our investment in the Kalama facility will benefit our local, state, and national economies while protecting the Columbia River.”

The approvals are just part of a long permitting process involving local, state and federal government before the controversial methanol refinery can be built.

The plan calls for construction of a refinery to turn natural gas into methanol, which would then be shipped to China and used to make plastics. The facility would span 100 acres and once operational could process 10,000 metric tons of methanol a day.

Environmental groups plan to appeal the shoreline permit decision, according to Miles Johnson, an attorney for the Columbia Riverkeeper.

He said Ecology’s permit does not adequately address greenhouse gas emissions at the facility or the climate impacts of the production of natural gas or shipping of methanol — essentially the total footprint of activities before and after products are in the refinery.

“Today, Ecology abandoned its duty to protect the Columbia River, and Washington’s climate, from the impacts of methanol refining and export,” Johnson said.

Both the shoreline permit and water quality certification can be appealed to the state Environmental and Land Use Hearings Office, according to Ecology.