Green New Deal News

Study: Kalama methanol plant could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions

A new report on the proposed $2 billion methanol refinery in Kalama shows that although the project would increase greenhouse gas emissions in Washington State, it could replace more polluting sources worldwide, the state Department of Ecology announced Sept. 2.

The department announced it had completed a second environmental review of the proposed facility, finding that although the project would increase state emissions “significantly,” it could replace dirtier sources globally. 

The additional analysis of the project, which would refine methane into methanol that project backers said would be used in plastics manufacturing, was undertaken after Ecology found in November that the original study didn’t sufficiently analyze what greenhouse gas impacts the plant would have.

Ecology took on the role of conducting the study, following the initial one conducted by Cowlitz County and the Port of Kalama, the department announcement stated. The new study has been deemed sufficient by the department as it looks to make its final decision on whether to grant the project a shoreline permit needed before the project can break ground.

The new analysis shows that the refinery would increase greenhouse gas emissions in the state by the equivalent of one million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, Ecology’s announcement stated, making the refinery one of the top-10 sources of emissions in the state. It also found that demand for methanol is likely to increase in the future, which would lead to higher emissions with or without the refinery.

The study noted that Northwest Innovation Works (NWIW), the company behind the project, had stated the methanol would be used for plastics production, but it was “more likely that more methanol will be used as fuel, regardless of the source.”

Though the analysis reasoned some methanol produced would be used as fuel, it found that other sources to provide the inevitable demand for the resource would use coal or less-efficient methane sources, making methanol used as fuel from the proposed facility contribute to likely less overall emissions.

Northwest Innovation Works acknowledged the new study “reflects an exhaustive effort to thoroughly analyze this project, with unprecedented depth and focus on (greenhouse gas) emissions. 

“With the release of today’s report, we have further credible validation that the Kalama facility drives a global net reduction in GHGs,” NWIW General Counsel Kent Caputo said in a statement from the company following the release of the study. He said the analysis showed the project would lead to the reduction of more than six million metric tons of greenhouse gases globally every year, equal to about two times the number of emissions from the city of Seattle.

“In our view, Ecology has enabled a progressive, comprehensive, and credible approach to the analysis, regulation, limitation, and mitigation of GHG emissions,” Caputo said in the statement. “Likewise, the mitigation framework released with the analysis represents the most sweeping ever proposed in this state.”

“Washington stands to be a national — and international — leader in how to build a sustainable economy, creating family-wage jobs that make measurable, positive economic and environmental contributions,” Caputo said.

NWIW Chief Development Officer Vee Godley added that the project would result in 1,000 family-wage jobs as soon as construction began, contributing between $30 million to $40 million in tax revenue annually.

“There’s never been a greater need in our lifetimes to create family-wage jobs and new tax revenue for our critical services,” Godley said in the statement. “This is a project that creates jobs, generates new tax revenue, helps the community and protects land, air and water – all at meaningful levels.”

Though project proponents championed the worldwide impact, those against bringing the project to Kalama pointed to the fact it would still result in more emissions closer to home. 

After the study’s release, the Center for Biological Diversity responded by saying the analysis showed the facility would use up to 320 million cubic feet of methane per day, more than all gas-fueled power plants in Washington combined. The plant would also result in 4.6 million tons of pollution every year for 40 years, the organization added.

“For years, backers of the Kalama methanol project tried to hide the tremendous amount of greenhouse gas pollution that this refinery would cause,” Sally Keely, a math professor and resident of Kalama, said in the center’s statement. “By driving increased fracking and pushing consumption of fracked fossil fuels, this refinery would dramatically undermine Washington’s climate and clean energy goals.”

“This analysis confirms what we have already known — that this dangerous project poses potentially catastrophic climate impacts and has no place in Washington’s clean energy future,” Alyssa Macy, CEO of Washington Environmental Council and Washington Conservation Voters, also said in the statement.

The period for public comment on the draft study will run through Oct. 2, Ecology said, which will include three remote public hearings on Sept. 17 and Sept. 22. Once the period ends, the department will use the feedback to finalize the study to make a final decision as whether or not to approve the shoreline permit for the project.