science environment

Columbia River Town One Step Closer To Hosting World's Largest Methanol Plant

By Ashley Ahearn (KUOW/EarthFix)
Sept. 30, 2016 11:45 p.m.

The world's largest methanol plant is one step closer to construction on the lower Columbia River after the Port of Kalama on Friday released its just-completed report on how the project would affect the environment.

The Chinese-backed facility would convert natural gas to methanol which would then be shipped across the Pacific to be made into plastic.

The final environmental impact statement outlines potential effects on the environment surrounding the facility. Environmentalists say there are significant information gaps.

Making methanol is an energy and water intensive process. It also releases toxic chemicals and carcinogens like Benzene and formaldehyde, among other chemicals.

The plant in Kalama, Washington, would use as much natural gas as all the residential customers in Washington state combined.

And that's a key to what critic and environmentalist Brett VandenHeuvel considers a missing link in the environmental review: Where is the natural gas to make all that methanol going to come from?

"The port does not disclose the likely need for a new large natural gas pipeline across the state of Washington. It's just not in there," said VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper.

He said a new pipeline could make the area more dependent on natural gas. He also warned it could threaten private landowner rights along the route of the pipeline, especially if the right of eminent domain is invoked to put a pipeline across people's property without their consent.

The environmental review says the project's backer, Northwest Innovation Works, "has not entered into contracts for the supply of natural gas to the proposed project."

The Port of Kalama did not respond to requests for an interview.

A final decision on the methanol project is expected in the coming weeks.