What You Need To Know About The Massive Proposed Kalama Gas-to-Methanol Facility
A guide explaining the health and climate risks posed by constructing a massive methanol-producing facility on the banks of the scenic Columbia River near Kalama, Washington.
The Latest: Climate activists celebrate victory over world’s largest fracked gas-to-methanol refinery.
In a stunning climate victory, Northwest Innovation Works, the backers of the massive methanol refinery proposal in Kalama, Wash., officially abandoned its fracked gas refinery and pipeline proposal on Jun. 11, 2021, terminating the company’s lease with the Port of Kalama.
“Projects like this simply cannot go forward as we fight to save our climate,” said Kristen Boyles, senior attorney with Earthjustice. “The climate-killing emissions from this project would have overwhelmed Washington, and we must keep drawing the line and saying no.”
What is methanol?
A volatile liquid alcohol, methanol is used in the production of gasoline and other fuels, and in a wide variety of products, such as plastics and paints.
What is the proposed facility?
The petrochemical refinery would be larger than any currently operating methanol facility in the world, and would use more natural gas each day than all of the power plants in Washington combined.
It would manufacture methanol from natural gas and ship it to China to make plastics. The refinery would produce up to 3.6 million metric tons of methanol per year.
Why is this a big deal?
1. It would have a devastating impact on the climate. The proposed Kalama facility would emit more than a million tons per year of climate pollution as part of the manufacturing process alone. Shipping the methanol to Asia would generate hundreds of thousands of additional tons per year of climate pollution. And, the methane emitted by fracking and pipeline transport to supply the facility would make the greenhouse gas impacts skyrocket even higher.
2. It locks us into future fossil fuel use. The plant would use a huge amount of natural gas—approximately 300,000 dekatherms per day—more than all of the gas-fired power plants in Washington combined. This huge new demand for gas will lead to new gas well drilling and fracking, and new regional pipelines that lock in future fossil fuel use for decades, at a time when we need to phase out our reliance on fossil fuels in favor of clean energy.
3. It would be bad for our health now. The Kalama methanol refinery would emit a wide range of hazardous air pollutants including ammonia, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, among others. For instance, the facility’s emissions for diesel particulate air pollution would exceed the state’s acceptable levels (ASILs) by five times.
Scientists have warned that we’re at a climate tipping point. A new source of pollution like this one moves us a giant step farther away from the clean energy future we can and must build.
What would happen to the landscape? And to public safety?
Steam plumes would be longer than Mount St. Helens is tall, 25% of the time. Mount St. Helens’ elevation is 8,366 feet and is visible from hundreds of miles away. (As shown in Table 16 on page 60 of Appendix D to the Final Environmental Impact Statement, if the plant uses “ultra-low emission” (ULE) technology.)
Additionally, 72 million gallons of flammable methanol would be stored on soil with moderate to high risk of liquefying in an earthquake. A big quake and soil liquefaction could damage structures at the refinery and kill or injure workers. Spreading of flammable methanol would likely affect other project elements located on the Columbia River.
Would this affect the iconic salmon and orca of the Northwest?
Three to six tankers per month will carry the refinery’s product down the Columbia River and across the bar at Astoria en route to China. The massive new facility and vessel traffic would further harm endangered salmon that are already stressed by dams, other pollution. It would also increase risk of ship strikes that harm or kill whales near the mouth of the Columbia River.
Who is opposed to the proposed Kalama refinery?
Communities in Washington and Oregon have been standing up to huge fossil fuel export projects for nearly a decade—and they’ve been winning. The fights against coal exports and crude-by-rail are ongoing, but the Pacific Northwest is standing strong as the Thin Green Line of states opposed to massive fossil fuel exports, and multiple projects have been stopped in their tracks. Another methanol export facility proposed in Tacoma, Washington was abandoned in the face of community opposition.
Washingtonians must rally against the proposed Kalama project and keep holding back the tide of massive exports of climate-destroying fossil fuels. Meet just of the few of the Washingtonians who oppose the refinery:
Earthjustice is representing Columbia Riverkeeper, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Sierra Club, Washington Environmental Council, and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility in litigation against the proposed Kalama refinery. The cases are part of Earthjustice’s docket of work fighting industry’s attempts to turn ports in the Pacific Northwest into hubs for shipping coal, crude oil, and fracked gas to international markets.
What did our lawsuit argue?
On Nov. 12, 2019, a coalition of public health and environmental groups challenged federal approvals for Northwest Innovation Works’ massive fracked gas-to-methanol refinery proposed for Kalama, Wash.
The complaint alleges that federal agencies violated the law by:
- Underestimating the refinery’s massive climate pollution,
- Undercutting the public interest under the Clean Water Act, and
- Failing to protect threatened salmon and endangered Southern Resident killer whales when they issued permits and approvals for the methanol refinery.
Additionally, a coalition of local and national groups — Columbia Riverkeeper, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, and Washington Environmental Council (represented by Earthjustice) — challenged state shoreline development permits for the Kalama methanol refinery in Sept. 2019. The coalition filed an appeal with the Washington Shorelines Hearings Board, because the permits significantly underestimate the greenhouse gas emissions and impacts of the proposed refinery. The challenge built on successful 2017 litigation that forced the project to prepare a supplemental environmental analysis specifically focused on greenhouse gas emissions and the climate crisis.
“The proposed Kalama Methanol Refinery is a climate disaster,” said Kristen Boyles, attorney with Earthjustice. “Under either state or federal law, you can’t build a massive new source of greenhouse gases without fully accounting for all impacts.”
The Washington Department of Ecology denied permits for the massive fracked gas-to-methanol refinery on Jan. 26, 2021. The state agency nixed the fossil fuel processing and export proposal after deciding it would have a significant negative impact on the climate, Washington’s shorelines, and the public interest.