Methanol in Kalama

Read comments on the DEIS by Columbia Riverkeeper and other groups.

Northwest Innovation Works LLC (NWIW), a new company backed by the Chinese government, wants to build a large natural gas-to-methanol plant at the Port of Kalama, Washington. Methanol from the plant would be shipped through the Columbia River estuary to China where it would be used to make plastic or burned as fuel. NWIW would exploit North America’s natural gas reserves, cheap power, and abundant fresh water to increase China’s fossil fuel consumption.

Most recently, on April 18, 2016, the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) comment period wrapped for the proposed methanol plant at the Port of Kalama. Cowlitz County and other Washington agencies will use the EIS to inform their decisions on the land, air, and water permits that NWIW would need.

The Kalama Methanol Plant Would Take:

  • At least 300,000 dekatherms of fracked gas per day (270,000 as raw material, plus at least 30,000 for power generation)
  • 200 megawatts of electricity daily – equal to the amount of electricity used by ALL Cowlitz County residents.
  • 4.8 million gallons of water a day – one third of the Port of Kalama’s water use.
  • 36 – 72 deep-draft tanker ships per year (one way) – methanol spill risk and tanker impacts to juvenile salmon.

Building a methanol plant on land currently used for dredge spoils is a terrible idea. NWIW wants to build its plant on sandy dredge spoils in the historic Columbia River floodplain. The Draft EIS explains that soil at the plant site has a “moderate to high liquefaction susceptibility” in the event of an earthquake, which could result in the ground under the plant subsiding more than two feet.

Kalama is the guinea pig for methanol refining. NWIW is a new start up. They’ve never built nor run a methanol plant. The proposed technology has never been used to make methanol commercially.

The project ignores the pipeline. NWIW wants to build a new 3.1 mile pipeline in Kalama to supply their methanol plant. The new pipeline threatens the historic Mt. Pleasant cemetery in Kalama. The Draft EIS should include pipeline impacts from proposed new and expanded pipelines.

The draft EIS uses “fuzzy” math to hide the Greenhouse gas emissions: In an attempt to mislead decisionmakers, NWIW is considering two different processes to refine natural gas into methanol: Conventional Refining (CR) and Ultra Low Energy (ULE). All steps for the two processes from the well head to the burner tip differ on greenhouse gas emissions by just 1 %! The Draft EIS should come clean about the true extraction to emission carbon impacts.

A massive eye sore for Kalama residents and tourists. Northwest Innovation Works would take first prize as the owner of the tallest structure in Cowlitz County: a 245’ flare operating 24/7. Kalama’s famous totem pole is 145.’ The Draft EIS should include negative economic impacts of a spoiled viewshed.

Methanol is a risky investment. When the Port of Kalama signed the lease with NWIW in early 2014, the price of methanol was near a record high. But by February 2016, methanol had declined to its lowest value since the financial collapse of 2009. Southwest Washington could get stuck with a messy, worthless plant. NWIW is a startup Limited Liability Company and the Draft EIS should include financial reassurances for Cowlitz County.


For more information on Northwest Innovation Works’ plans, please check out these excellent resources:

One Response to “Methanol in Kalama”

  1. Mike Thomas says:

    I’m frustrated that the EIS does not require a complete measurement of carbon… from the generation of electricity all the way to ship exhaust.

    I haven’t seen a reasonable answer as to why intend to build three separate plants.

    I believe new large consumers of electricity should be required to mitigate whatever electrical demand carbon generation requirements they will have with renewable production. Simply, if land and the plants require mitigation when industry or commerce needs a particular plot, so too should large electrical demand. Afterall, the public will be required to offset that same coal or gas generation, shouldn’t this be on the tab of large industrial consumers from now on?