Doug Mackey, of Tacoma, speaks against the methanol plant proposed for the Port of Tacoma during a public meeting on Feb. 10

Doug Mackey, of Tacoma, speaks against the methanol plant proposed for the Port of Tacoma during a public meeting on Feb. 10

Pacific Northwest could become hub for methanol production

SEATTLE — The Pacific Northwest could become a major hub for methanol production if three proposed refineries are built along the Columbia River and Puget Sound.

A China-backed consortium, Northwest Innovation Works, has proposed two plants in Washington and a third in Oregon to convert natural gas to methanol, which would be shipped to China to make plastics and other consumer goods.

But those plans are running into opposition. On Friday, the company temporarily put its project in Tacoma on hold, saying it has been “surprised by the tone and substance of vocal opposition.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has embraced the projects as a boost to the state’s clean energy future. He has said the investments — about $7 billion for the three plants — would be one of the largest foreign investments in the U.S. by a Chinese company.

Supporters say the projects would create hundreds of jobs and infuse billions to the region. Opponents are concerned about environmental and health impacts.

More than 1,000 people attended a hearing this month on the Tacoma project, which would produce 20,000 metric tons a day and dwarf other methanol plants planned or being built in the U.S. A citizens group is sponsoring an initiative to require voter approval for water permits exceeding one million gallons a day. The city of Federal Way passed a resolution opposing the project.

“We’re talking about building enormous petrochemical refineries on the shorelines of our most important water bodies. That’s dangerous,” said Eric de Place, policy director for Sightline Institute, a progressive think tank.

Company president Murray Godley said in a statement Friday that the project “provides an exciting opportunity for Washington and Oregon to become world leaders in addressing climate change through innovation by producing methanol and the products we use every day in more environmentally responsible way.” But he said the company would take the next few months to engage the Tacoma community in more dialogue

Methanol, a wood alcohol, is used to make olefins, a component in everyday products such as eyeglasses, insulin pumps and fleece jackets, said Mandy Putney, a company spokeswoman.

Most methanol in China is produced using coal, but the Northwest plants would use natural gas, which is cleaner, she said.

As prices have dropped, natural gas has attracted industrial consumers who use methanol as a feedstock, said Katie Teller, an economist with the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Several methanol plants have been proposed recently, a few have come on line and more are expected in the next few years, she said.

In the Northwest, the largest of three refineries will be built on the site of a former aluminum smelter in Tacoma. Other plants are proposed for Kalama in southwest Washington, and at Port Westward in Oregon, about 30 miles north of Portland.

The Kalama project is the furthest along in its environmental review. A draft is expected next month, and construction could begin by early 2017.

Inslee said last month there are questions about water, pollution and other issues. But there are upsides, including that the plant would use natural gas rather than coal, Inslee said.

“I do think there’s a legitimate interest in Washington to look at technologies that can give us products that we use here in a way that reduces pollution,” Inslee said.

Doug Mackey, 51, a Tacoma native, opposes the project for a number of reasons, including the amount of water and electricity that will be consumed.

Many residents remember the Asarco copper smelter plant, which resulted in arsenic, lead and other contamination, he said.

“It’s an aching feeling of no, no, not again,” he said.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Chestnut mushrooms grow in a fruiting tent on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, at Black Forest Mushrooms in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Fungi town: Downtown Everett home to new indoor gourmet mushroom farm

Black Forest Mushrooms will grow up to 20,000 pounds of tasty mushrooms each month. Its storefront opens Saturday at 2110 Hewitt Ave.

Outside of Angel of the Winds Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Police arrest Angel of the Winds arena worker accused of stabbing boss

The man allegedly walked up to his employer and demanded a raise, before stabbing him in the stomach, witnesses said.

The town post office in Index, Washington on Wedesday, Nov. 29, 2023.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Index, smallest town in Snohomish County, is No. 1 in voter turnout

Index has beaten the Snohomish County ballot return rate in each of the last 10 years. Snohomish County leaders have a few theories as to why.

Founder and Executive Director Pa Ousman Joof, alongside Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell, right, prepares to cut the ribbon during the grand opening of the Washington West African Center on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Born out of struggle, West African Center flourishes in Lynnwood

African music filled the room Saturday at 19203 36th Ave. West, for the grand opening of the nonprofit’s new state headquarters.

An STI clinic opened Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Free STI clinic opens in Everett after 14-year hiatus — and as rates spike

The county-run facility will provide treatment and resources for prevention of sexually transmitted infections.

Graffiti covers the eastern side of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County Cascade Unit on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Again, Boys and Girls Club tagged with suspected gang signs in Everett

Residents on Cascade Drive say their neighborhood has been the scene of excessive graffiti and sometimes gunfire in the past year.

A suspected gas explosion on Wednesday destroyed a house in the 19700 block of 25TH DR SE in Bothell, Washington. (Snohomish Regional Fire & Rescue)
After a newly bought Bothell house exploded, experts urge caution

The owners had closed on their purchase of the house just two days earlier. No one was hurt in the explosion.

A sign in front of the AquaSox front office references the upcoming Everett City Council vote on a sum of $1.1 million to give to outside contractors to help upgrade a new stadium on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett AquaSox stadium upgrade gets $1.1M green light from city

City officials want to keep the team in Everett. But will they play in a new stadium downtown in 2027? Or an updated Funko Field?

Snohomish County Councilmember Nate Nehring, left, speaks alongside Councilmember Jared Mead during the Building Bridges Summit on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023, at Western Washington University Everett in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
County Council members launch bipartisan ‘Building Bridges’ nonprofit

Jared Mead, a Democrat, and Nate Nehring, a Republican, hosted an event attended by 100 people this week in Everett.

Assistant Superintendent Patty Dowd greets a family with their child’s laptop and other class materials outside Endeavour Elementary on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, two days after an overnight fire tore through the inside the school in Mukilteo, Washington. Classes will be held online until after winter break to give crews time to make repairs to the building. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Fire closes Endeavour Elementary in Mukilteo until 2024

Classes shifted to remote learning after a fire damaged the school Monday. Laptops were handed out Wednesday.

Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman announces his retirement after 31 years of service at the Everett City Council meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
After 40 days retired, Everett ex-police chief hired to mayor’s office

Everett’s longtime police chief, Dan Templeman, retired Oct. 31. He’s set to start a new role as senior executive director Monday.

The Monroe Correctional Complex on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘Unexpected’ deaths are up in Washington’s prisons

At least 29 people died unexpectedly in Washington’s state prisons from July 2022 to June 2023.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.