Washington Climate Activists Celebrate Victory Over Massive Fracked Gas Refinery


Amid strong opposition and legal defeats, developers end pursuit of world’s largest fracked gas-to-methanol refinery


Brett VandenHeuvel, Columbia Riverkeeper: (503) 348-2436, bv@columbiariverkeeper.org

Kristen Boyles, Earthjustice: (206) 930-6660, kboyles@earthjustice.org

Rebecca Ponzio, Washington Environmental Council, (206) 240-0493, rebeccaa@wecprotects.org

Jared Margolis, Center for Biological Diversity: (802) 310-4054, jmargolis@biologicaldiversity.org

Gabby Brown, Sierra Club: (914) 261-4626, gabby.brown@sierraclub.org

In a stunning climate victory, Northwest Innovation Works (NWIW), backers of a controversial fossil fuel processing and export proposal in Kalama, Wash., officially abandoned its fracked gas refinery and pipeline proposal, terminating the company’s lease with the Port of Kalama. The decision comes after years of local and regional activism to stop the massive fracked gas refinery, resulting in a series of legal defeats. In early 2021, Washington state denied a key permit, citing the refinery’s significant climate and shoreline impacts. That decision followed state and federal court rejections of other permits for failing to fully analyze the project’s harm on climate, water quality, and the public interest.

“After many years of fighting dirty coal, oil, and fracked gas, we are looking forward to a clean energy future in Washington,” stated Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director with Columbia Riverkeeper.

“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.”

In December 2020, the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) released its final study on the massive fracked gas-to-methanol refinery. Ecology determined that the fossil fuel processing facility would have a significant negative impact on our climate.

Ecology found the greenhouse gas emissions from the Kalama facility itself would be significant: It would be one of the largest sources of carbon emissions in Washington (including upstream emissions, 4.8 million metric tons a year). Only one emissions source in Washington produces more greenhouse gas emissions than NWIW’s lifecycle emissions — a power plant in Centralia that is required by law to stop burning coal by 2025.

“Today’s victory for people and the environment is the culmination of persistent opposition of communities across Washington who refuse to accept harmful gas industry expansion. NWIW has tried to fool the public for years that this project could be good for the climate and the economy, but what harms the environment harms us all,” said Alyssa Macy, CEO of Washington Environmental Council / Washington Conservation Voters. “Washington state is leading bold climate progress so we are committed to investing in a just and clean economy because projects that endanger our health, safety, and climate like fracked gas-to-methanol have no place in our futures. Period.”

“Kalama was a disaster waiting to happen, so this is a crucial victory for our climate and the people and wildlife along the Columbia River,” said Jared Margolis, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We need to move away from these climate bombs that would lock us into an unsustainable future and pollute the air and water we all need to survive.”

The victory over NWIW marks the latest chapter in a decade of victories over fossil fuel development in the Pacific Northwest. Following years of activism and legal actions, Tribal Nations, communities, and nonprofits defeated the nation’s largest coal and oil-by-rail terminals, both proposed along the Columbia. Coalitions including Power Past Fracked Gas, Stand Up to Oil, and Power Past Coal led victories over a dozen fracked gas pipelines, liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, coal export terminals, and oil-by-rail developments proposed in the Pacific Northwest.

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Northwest Innovation Works proposed to build methanol refineries at Kalama, Wash., and Port Westward, Ore., to take advantage of the region’s cheap fracked gas (methane), electricity, and water. The refineries would convert stunning volumes of fracked gas into methanol for export to make plastics or fuel. Each methanol refinery could consume 270 million cubic feet of fracked gas per day, more than all other industries in Washington combined. Methane, collected by fracking, is a potent greenhouse gas. New studies show that fracking for methane gas is a major threat to our climate because methane escapes into the atmosphere from gas wells and pipelines.

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