Some answers to a methanol-plant questions fueling ardent debate

February 27, 2016 - storage organizer

Intense open inspection of a China-backed company’s devise to build a world’s largest methanol plant in Tacoma’s Tideflats shows no pointer of reducing notwithstanding a postponement in a regulatory process.

Northwest Innovation Works has asked a city of Tacoma to put examination of a plant on hold, citing outspoken open opposition. The association says it will restart a focus to build a trickery after several months of open outreach.

Meanwhile, groups on any side of a plead over a plant are relocating forward with their causes.

Concerned observers and direct opponents of a plant any sponsored informational meetings Thursday night and collectively drew some-more than 300 attendees. Also final week, a Normandy Park and Des Moines city councils assimilated Federal Way’s in hostile a plant.

For a part, Northwest Innovation Works member asked a legislative cabinet Wednesday to concede a due plant to use a sales-tax extend to build and work a $3.4 billion facility. The methanol association is also accessible a Port of Tacoma preference on possibly to postpone a date on that their franchise moves into a higher-rent construction phase.

Northwest Innovation Works has not given a specific timeline for when it will ask a city to restart care of a proposal. Tacoma officials have pronounced that if a offer is restarted — or a new plant offer is submitted — a city approaching will start a new 45-day duration to devise a environmental examination and would lift over a some-more than 1,000 comments a city has already perceived about a intensity plant.

During this pause, The News Tribune will inspect aspects of a methanol offer in-depth to assistance surprise open discussion.



In this initial installment, we try to answer some frequently asked questions about a basement of a proposal, from a station to a scholarship behind a facility.

Q: What’s a executive station of a methanol plant due for a Port of Tacoma?

A: Right now, a devise is on hold, that doesn’t meant it’s dead.

The plant’s proposer is profitable $8,000 a month to keep a franchise alive on a Port site where it wants to build a 110-acre methanol plant and 15 acres of storage tanks.

If built, a plant would harmonize healthy gas and steam to make 20,000 tons of methanol a day — a tiny over 7 million tons annually — for trade to China, and would keep adult to 300,000 tons in a storage tanks while it awaits shipment. Northwest Innovation Works has a 30-year franchise on a site nonetheless needs to get a array of permits authorized to build anything. The city was in a early stages of creation an environmental examination of a offer when a association asked to postponement a process.

It’s misleading what Northwest Innovation Works’ specific timeline is for restarting a application. Via email, a association mouthpiece declined to explain a press redeem that pronounced officials would spend “months” on open overdo before their subsequent move. In a release, association boss Murray “Vee” Godley wrote that “further dialogue” is entrance with area residents.

“This will yield us an eventuality to share some-more sum about a due project, plead a environmental and reserve procedures we are planning, and hear directly from a open about their concerns, as good as accept submit on serve innovations,” he wrote.

An organizer of Red Line Tacoma, one of several citizens’ groups hostile a plant, pronounced a possess open preparation and classification efforts will continue as prolonged as a offer stays alive.

Whenever a association comes behind to a city to restart a process, things will collect adult some-more or rebate where they left off — nearby a start of a yearlong research of a project’s environmental consequences.

Comments already finished over a operation of a environmental examination will sojourn partial of a devise record, pronounced Ian Munce, a city’s arch planner. His dialect will confirm how many some-more open meetings to reason for serve submit after a association asks to restart a process.

Once a operation of a environmental work is set, Tacoma will sinecure a consultant to lift out a review, checking out a topics of regard a city sets out. Northwest Innovation Works will have to compensate a consultant’s fees. The breeze chronicle of a consultant’s commentary will come adult for open examination — and plead — a few months later. After that, assent applications can be filed with state, sovereign and internal agencies, any of that can approve, repudiate or need changes to a plant.

The breeze chronicle of a city’s environmental examination devise runs 14 pages and is accessible on a city’s website.

It includes concerns voiced by hundreds of residents on how a methanol plant would impact atmosphere peculiarity in a city and Puget Sound, disaster risks, workman and proprietor health, H2O and other resources, land use, and a effects on fish and other wildlife, among other considerations.

Q: What is Northwest Innovation Works?

A: It’s a association that proposes to spend a sum of $7 billion building gas-to-methanol plants in Tacoma, Kalama and during Port Westward, Oregon, nearby Clatskanie. All a methanol constructed is to be exported to a pier of Dailan and other sites in China, to be converted into olefins for prolongation products, including plastics.

Northwest Innovation Works is owned by a Shanghai Bi Ke Clean Energy Technology Co., a Chinese association 44 percent owned by a Chinese Academy of Sciences Holdings, an arm of China’s government; 43 percent owned by Double Green Bridge, a private Hong Kong-based holding association owned by executives of Northwest Innovation Works’ primogenitor company; and 13 percent owned by Johnson Matthey, a British chemical record company. A minority share creatively reason by BP has been sole and separate between a other investors.

Q: Why is Northwest Innovation Works proposing to come to Tacoma?

A: The methanol marketplace in China is booming, nonetheless China doesn’t have a good supply of healthy gas from that to make methanol.

Tacoma sits tighten to a high-volume healthy gas tube and has a deep-water port. The pier also has some-more than 100 acres of accessible industrial-zoned skill before assigned by a Kaiser Aluminum smelter and entrance to high-volume application connections.

Q: Why can’t a association make a methanol in China instead?

A: China has a array of methanol plants that use coal, nonetheless China doesn’t have an plenty supply of healthy gas, so that would have to be imported.

Northwest Innovation Works says a prolongation routine will need 504 million cubic feet of healthy gas per day, or 184 billion cubic feet per year.

Moving adequate healthy gas on tanker ships opposite a Pacific to make that many methanol would need converting it to glass healthy gas, afterwards regulating vast tankers to boat that opposite a Pacific.

That routine would be cost-prohibitive and engage building a vast new LNG facility, according to Dave McCaskill, clamp boss of methanol services with a appetite researcher Argus DeWitt in Houston.

“Current meditative is that it is cheaper to build in a US (or anywhere else with some-more appealing feedstock costs) and boat it to China,” McCaskill wrote in an email. “What creates Oregon/Washington so many some-more appealing is location. It’s usually a true shot over to China.”

Q: What is methanol?

A: It’s a drab and roughly scentless form of ethanol that was initial removed in a 17th century.

Methanol is unwholesome for humans and animals to ingest.

There are several processes that can be used to make it by synthesizing CO monoxide and hydrogen.

Historically, wood, hint and methane — a categorical member of healthy gas — have any been used as fuel for creation it, along with steam. Other names for it embody timber ethanol and methyl alcohol.

Q: What are methanol’s uses?

A: Industrial, mainly.

It is used in a array of consumer products, such as antifreeze and windshield wiper fluid. Some countries, particularly China, have used it as an serve for automobile fuel. Methanol is a executive member of formaldehyde. It can also reinstate hint or petroleum in creation olefins — a pivotal partial in prolongation plastics — to make a routine evacuate rebate hothouse gases.

Q: How would a Tacoma plant examination to other methanol plants?

A: Its outlay of some-more than 7 million tons a year would be a largest in a world.

One of identical size has been due for coastal Texas by Fund Connell USA, a opposite Chinese-rooted company. Existing methanol plants any furnish fewer than 2 million tons a year, according to attention observers. A cluster of 7 plants in Trinidad collectively puts out 6.5 million tons a year.

The due Tacoma plant is not an accurate comparison to any of these given they use opposite processes, Godley said.

What Northwest Innovation Works wants to build in Tacoma, as during a Columbia River sites, is a scaled-up chronicle of a plant that has operated given 1994 in North Laverton, Australia, a suburb of Melbourne.

Johnson Matthey, a British association that binds an equity interest in Northwest Innovation Works, grown the prolongation routine that trickery uses to furnish 80,000 tons of methanol per year, an volume a Tacoma plant’s full-capacity outlay will equal in 4 days. Its methanol is used to make formaldehyde in Australia.

Godley pronounced a due plant’s routine boundary emissions by replacing an industrial-scale gas burner with a feverishness exchanger. It uses electricity instead of gas in some processes, among other technical alterations, to chemically renovate healthy gas with steam into methanol.

He pronounced this routine means a “very, unequivocally poignant rebate in emissions profile” compared to what existent plants — even a others that use healthy gas — evacuate per ton of methanol produced.

McCaskill pronounced many methanol plants need 30,000 cubic feet of gas per ton of methanol produced. According to numbers Godley provided, a Tacoma plant’s routine means it will devour 25,200 cubic feet of gas per ton, 84 percent of what other methanol plants need on a per-ton basis.

The distance of a Tacoma facility’s sum output, however, means it would use some-more healthy gas any day than any other methanol prolongation plant.

Q: What resources will a Tacoma plant require?

A: Aside from a genuine estate adjoining a Blair Waterway, a plant would use electricity and H2O from Tacoma Public Utilities, and healthy gas from a tie to a Williams Company’s northwest pipeline.

Tacoma Public Utilities does not have adequate appetite supply to yield a 450 megawatts a methanol plant would need when it starts up, pronounced Robert Mack, a utility’s emissary executive for open affairs.

The system’s sum normal daily direct in 2015 was 551 megawatts, and a WestRock indent on a Tideflats was a largest appetite customer, with an normal 2015 use of 43.6 megawatts. The methanol plant would need some-more than 10 times that during startup and use 400 megawatts on normal when using during full production, Mack said.

By law, TPU is compulsory to yield adequate appetite for any accessible direct in a city. This means a application or Northwest Innovation Works would have to buy some-more electricity on a open market.

It’s misleading what that would cost, or possibly a net outcome of an increasing direct on a informal appetite grid’s supply would lift over to a cost of appetite for other customers, including residential users.

TPU Director Bill Gaines said in October that he would suggest a methanol plant cover any cost increase. Godley told a Port elect assembly Feb. 18 that residential electric rates “will not arise due to a methanol plant.”

The H2O direct is easier to comment for. Tacoma Public Utilities has adequate ability to yield a 10.4 million gallons of H2O per day a plant would use, even nonetheless it would be a poignant serve to Tacoma Water’s 2015 use of 53 million gallons a day for all customers. Mack pronounced a system’s largest singular H2O user in 2015 was a WestRock mill, that used 15.65 million gallons per day.

Although Tacoma Water has drawn some H2O from wells as recently as a 2015 drought, a primary supply comes from a Green River, that is estimated to supply an normal of 72 million gallons a day by itself. On average, Tacoma Water uses about 54 percent of a Green River H2O it binds rights to, state Department of Ecology orator Chase Gallagher said.

“It sounds like a city has a lot of room to grow,” pronounced Gallagher, “and it looks like their water-right skeleton for a destiny could hoop a due use like this.”

Mack pronounced that Tacoma Water bills could feasible tumble for a utility’s other business if a methanol plant comes through, given a application would be creation income by offered ability it doesn’t now use.

Connecting a healthy gas supply a trickery needs would need construction work over a port.

Federal statistics indicate that a gas-carrying ability exists in a tube that enters Washington during a Canadian limit city of Sumas and curves by Pierce County to yield a 184 billion cubic feet a year a Tacoma methanol plant would require. Northwest Innovation Works would have to negotiate with Williams Northwest Pipeline, a owner, to get a gas.

No agreement has nonetheless been inked on that, pronounced Williams orator George Angerbauer.

Connecting a Tideflats site to a informal tube would need laying about 10 miles of new siren by unincorporated Pierce County, a Puyallup genealogical reservation and a cities of Sumner, Puyallup, Fife and Tacoma, according to executive filings.

Q: What agencies have to pointer off on permits to build a plant?

A: There are 18 permits compulsory for a plant, according to a company’s rough count.

Among them, Tacoma decides possibly to extend a permit for shoreline development and a construction stormwater permit.

At a state level, a Department of Ecology contingency emanate a water peculiarity certification, and a Department of Fish and Wildlife issues a hydraulic devise approval. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers controls dual permits: a territory 10 assent for construction in passable waters, and a territory 404 assent concerning the fill element a plant would put into a water, both of that could engage a Coast Guard examination of stream operations.

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency would also have to emanate a assent that takes into comment a plant’s impact on atmosphere quality.

Decisions on those permits are to be guided by a commentary of a environmental examination of a plant, that Tacoma city officials are handling.

For a gas tube to fuel a plant, Northwest Innovation Works’ filings contend that Northwest Pipeline GP, a Williams subsidiary, will be obliged for permits and construction.


Proposed tube to Port of Tacoma



Q: What is a plant doing about a trembler and inundate risks of being on a Tideflats?

A: Godley pronounced a location’s vulnerabilities will be accounted for.

“We sinecure a experts here in a segment who know accurately what a site conditions are,” he said, “and afterwards underneath sovereign mandated and regulated guidelines, we pattern for those parameters.”

Harold Smelt, aspect H2O supervision manager for Pierce County, pronounced a plant footprint is “high and dry” on FEMA maps from intensity flooding of a Puyallup River, that would empty into a Hylebos and Blair waterways a plant site lies between.

However, he supposing maps of estimated overflow from tsunamis caused by earthquakes on a Seattle Fault and dual places on a Tacoma Fault. Only one of a 3 maps does not uncover a site inundated.

Peter McDonough, a Salt Lake City-based expert in gas engineering and seismic hazards, pronounced there are a array of safeguards an industrial site can take to try to hoop trembler and inundate risks. Storage tanks, he said, are during risk of detonation during a vital seismic eventuality and generally need high adequate berms to keep glass spills contained. An subterraneous tube is generally protected given it can pierce with a earth around it, he said.

“There’s unequivocally no reason that a trickery can't be built to safely withstand an earthquake, or a inundate for that matter,” McDonough said, “if they know what could happen.”

Q: Can a methanol brief into Puget Sound be spotless up?

A: The Methanol Institute, a trade group, has a 207-page primer on a website about protected doing of a chemical. Here’s what it says about cleaning a spill:

“It is not unsentimental to redeem methanol from spills into healthy bodies of water, such as rivers, lakes, and oceans.”

The request goes on to contend that “Methanol is not determined in a environment, and when expelled onto aspect waters, soil, and groundwater, it will straightforwardly intermix to low concentrations, permitting internal dirt or nautical germ to biodegrade it in a comparatively brief duration of time.”

Melissa Malott, executive executive of Citizens for a Healthy Bay, pronounced a methanol brief into a Sound would mistreat fish if they confront a methanol in a H2O before it dilutes or dissipates. Eventually, evaporation and plunge would mangle it down, nonetheless would also take oxygen out of a H2O in doing so.

The rate during that it degrades depends on where it was spilled. A 2010 news by a supervision of Alberta, Canada, found that methanol’s half-life ranges from a few days in bacteria- or oxygen-rich environments to 245 days in groundwater.

Malott pronounced that underneath a Clean Water Act, Northwest Innovation Works would bear shortcoming for brief cleanup, including creation a devise and carrying resources available.

Q: Is methanol incendiary or explosive?

A: It can be.

In a Feb. 11 display during a University of Washington Tacoma about a plant, Center for Urban Waters scholarship executive Joel Baker pronounced a methanol glow is scarcely invisible, and that it will usually locate glow when it is above 54 degrees.

“Yes, it burns,” Baker said. “Not utterly as incendiary as gasoline, and it contains half a appetite calm of gasoline.”

Methanol fires and explosions have occurred. Often, this is given methanol fog held a hint from elsewhere. There’s justification of this in forms tiny and large, from racetrack fires involving methanol fuel spills to industrial accidents.

In 2006, a 3,000-gallon methanol storage tank during a Florida sewage plant exploded, murdering dual workers and injuring a third. A U.S. Chemical Safety Board investigation found that “a slicing glow on a roof above a methanol storage tank incidentally lighted vapors entrance from a tank vent. The glow flashed behind into a storage tank, causing an blast inside a tank.”

The methanol in a Tacoma plant’s storage tanks won’t be pressurized, so they would be during risk of glow nonetheless not explosion, Baker said. The healthy gas entrance in around tube would be pressurized.

Q: What’s a risk of an blast during a plant ?

A: The plant hasn’t been entirely designed yet, so it’s unfit to know that with any grade of certainty.

The city skeleton to make blast risk partial of a environmental review, according to a breeze chronicle of a plan. The request specifies “a extensive research of a endowment of federal, state, and internal puncture response capabilities to residence spills, blast and/or glow along a tube route, during a site, and during send for shipping purposes.”

It also annals that risks compared with a refinery’s alliance to a due 30-acre Puget Sound Energy glass healthy gas plant and tyrannise marks will be assessed.

Q: What are a plant’s atmosphere emissions going to be?

A: The city’s environmental examination will weigh that in-depth.

Godley pronounced a plant’s usually emissions will come from a 3-4 industrial-scale boilers.

“That’s a accurate same emissions tide that comes off your gas stove, given we’re blazing gas,” he said.

According to a Northwest Innovation Works website, emissions “will embody CO dioxide, CO monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, flighty organic compounds and excellent particulate. These are a same pollutants that come from any healthy gas combustion—from a residential gas furnace to a healthy gas appetite plant.”

Emissions of any of those seem on the yearly wickedness register a Australia Department of a Environment keeps on a smaller methanol plant Coogee Chemicals operates there. The Tacoma trickery would use a same routine on a incomparable scale, Godley said.

The Australian supervision also reports emissions of metals including lead, arsenic and cadmium, as good as sulfur dioxide from that plant. Its hothouse gas emissions are not frequently tracked, pronounced Terry Sefton, a orator for a Environmental Protection Agency of Victoria, Australia.

A 2003 research of a Australian methanol plant found that a tiny over 0.75 tons of a hothouse gas CO dioxide were released for any ton of methanol a plant produced. That’s about a volume of CO dioxide a standard newcomer automobile emits in dual months of normal American driving, according to a Environmental Protection Agency.

At a Australian plant’s rate of emissions, one day of a Tacoma facility’s prolongation of 20,000 tons of methanol would furnish a same CO dioxide emissions as pushing 3,191 standard cars for a year.

Godley pronounced a Tacoma trickery would have a newly-devised emissions routine that produces rebate wickedness per ton than any other methanol plant.

“Within a proportions of this process, we are truly a generational step forward of a other emissions that any other plant will perform,” he said.

Aesthetically, a association says a plant would be seen nonetheless not smelled. The Northwest Innovation Works FAQ page says a plant “will not have an odor.”

Regular operations would evacuate purify steam into a air, Godley said. And as during many chemical plants, a plant would also need to run a flaring complement — that would glow glow from a empty pipes — to bake off rubbish element whenever it is started or close down. Godley pronounced that is approaching to occur “less than one light time per year, if we demeanour during (it) historically.”

The city’s breeze environmental operation indicates that a emissions constructed by increasing vast boat trade to a methanol plant will also be taken into account.

The array of ships indispensable could operation from 48 per year to some-more than 80, depending on a distance of boat used, city annals say.

The association is still operative to establish what distance tankers all concerned ports can handle, Godley said.

“They would operation anywhere from 60,000 tons banishment adult to around 150,000 tons displacement,” he said. “And it’s that vast a operation given we usually don’t know yet.”

The largest boat ever to berth during a Port of Tacoma, the ZIM Djibouti, has a sum tonnage of 114,000 tons.

Q: What are a mercantile advantages of a plant, both for a segment and for a owners?

A: Several factors aren’t nonetheless known.

Before skeleton were put on hold, Godley pronounced a association was operative to yield an mercantile investigate that would show, among other factors, a normal salary for a construction and operations jobs. We also don’t know a plant’s taxation impact, accurate outcome on area utilities costs and other bureaucratic costs.

These factors are known: Northwest Innovation Works anticipates a permanent need for 260 employees and a rise of 1,000 workers during of a construction period. That rise would be reached twice during construction, for a sum of roughly 18 months, Godley said.

According to commodity prices posted by Methanex, a competing methanol maker, a cost of methanol in a initial entertain of 2016 in Asia is $255 per ton. At that price, a approaching full-production annual outlay of a Tacoma plant would sell for $1.86 billion a year.

When construction begins, a plant’s franchise payments to a Port of Tacoma will volume to about $3.2 million a year for a 90 acres during a heart of a site.

The plant’s franchise sets a contingent full franchise remuneration to a Port during about $10 million per year: $6,000 per month per hactare of a categorical site, and $8,000 per month for any hactare over that. The accurate volume depends on several factors, including a land consult that hasn’t been finished and yearly change in a Consumer Price Index.

Among other issues still in motion are a taxes a plant will pay.

A check tentative in a Legislature is directed during stripping a methanol plant of a sales-tax extend for a squeeze of prolongation materials. Under stream law, a state Department of Revenue estimates a Tacoma plant would get $200 million in breaks from state sales taxes during construction, and another $15 million in annual state taxation advantages after it is built.

Q: Who supports building it here, and why?

A: The Port of Tacoma voted 4-0 to pointer a franchise to build a plant and has publicly upheld a judgment as a approach to put a vast waterfront industrial site behind into business.

Gov. Jay Inslee called a plant a “milestone for a purify appetite future” when it was announced in 2014. Its healthy gas routine creates fewer emissions than carrying a Chinese use hint to make methanol, a routine that creates wickedness that affects Americans. He pronounced in January a jobs it would emanate are a benefit. Members of several labor unions have publicly upheld a plant, citing a construction jobs it would create.

The Tacoma Chamber of Commerce and a Economic Development Board of Tacoma-Pierce County have any pronounced a plant would move mercantile benefits.

Q: Can a Tacoma methanol plant be stopped?

A: It doesn’t have permits yet, so a construction is not assured. There are several intensity roadblocks that could stop a plan.

If a association can’t make a mandate to obtain a permits to build and run a plant, it will possibly have to cgange a skeleton to accommodate those mandate — by changing a volume or routine to revoke atmosphere emissions, for example, if atmosphere peculiarity becomes a adhering indicate — or desert a project. Tacoma’s environmental impact investigate plays a vast purpose in possibly permits will be issued, given a operation of supervision agencies will rest on a findings.

Northwest Innovation Works could behind out. The association would compensate $1.8 million, including franchise already paid, if it cancels a franchise before a construction proviso begins. The association has asked to postpone that deadline, that is now May 1. The Port can cancel a franchise usually for cause, such as if a association stops profitable franchise or becomes insolvent.

Papers have been filed for a intensity list initiative that would need a city opinion over projects that would use some-more than 1 million gallons of H2O per day, nonetheless a outcome is uncertain.

A Tacoma city assemblyman pronounced the site could be rezoned to bar a methanol industrial trickery — that could invite a justice challenge — nonetheless no stairs toward that have been taken.

Q: Why aren’t Tacoma’s inaugurated officials holding some-more open stands on a project?

A: City formulation staff are obliged for a environmental examination of a offer and, ultimately, for deliberation possibly to assent a plant’s construction.

At a Tuesday meeting, Mayor Marilyn Strickland pronounced that City Council weighing in could lead to a firmness of a routine being challenged in court.

“What we’re observant is we can't change what staff is doing,” Strickland pronounced during a meeting. “They need to do this objectively. Regardless of possibly or not we support a methanol plant, staff have a shortcoming to demeanour during this totally objectively formed on facts, formed on scholarship and formed on intensity impact.

“Now, that doesn’t meant that a questions lifted are not legitimate,” a mayor continued, “and they will be answered, nonetheless this body’s pursuit is not to lay here and take a position and mount adult and say, ‘I dissuade we to build this’ or to pass a fortitude 9-0.

“And even if we did those things, we would have no authorised station in a process. It won’t change a outcome. But a pursuit is to make certain that we have something that has firmness and is neutral.”

Q: What has a due plant site been used for, and can anything else be finished with that property?

A: From a 1940s until 2000, a site contained an aluminum smelter, nonetheless it’s now vacant.

The Port of Tacoma purchased a Kaiser Aluminum site in failure justice in 2002 and spent roughly a decade and some-more than $30 million cleaning adult buildings and wickedness from smelter operations.

It still qualifies as a open “brownfield,” nonetheless pier officials contend it is now prepared for reuse by a complicated operations unchanging with a rest of a operative waterfront. The Port’s long-term skeleton call for expanding shipping and industrial uses within a 2,500-acre footprint, and 125 open acres with deepwater pier entrance and industrial zoning qualifies as an asset.

The methanol plant, pronounced Lou Paulsen, pier vital operations director, fits a check for a reside a open entity wanted to place there: an industrial operation that would not need lorry or sight suppliers and did not seem to leave cryptic levels of wickedness in a evident area that would contaminate a land further.

“One of a considerations for us was that we spent scarcely $33 million on this site,” Paulsen said. “We’d be crazy to move somebody on that would risk recontaminating it.”

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