Photo courtesy Port of Tacoma Photo courtesy Port of Tacoma
Photo courtesy Port of Tacoma Photo courtesy Port of Tacoma

Politics & Government

Tacoma to cast a wide net in reckoning impact of proposed methanol plant

February 08, 2016 06:09 PM

City planners will use a wide lens to study the environmental effects of a proposed methanol plant for Tacoma’s Tideflats.

Environmental impacts are not limited to the site on the Blair Waterway where Northwest Innovation Works is proposing the world’s largest methanol plant — according to a draft document mapping the scope of the project’s environmental review, called an Environmental Impact Statement or EIS.

A January meeting to collect comments on the plant’s review drew several hundred people. City planners and a contracted land use attorney are using comments provided at that meeting, as well as hundreds of written remarks, to help determine what potential impacts to study.

The environmental review must take into account two other Northwest Innovation proposals in the Pacific Northwest, according to the draft scope released last week.

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The environmental review will note the entire life cycle of methanol production — from natural gas extraction in Canada and transport to China where it will be used to manufacture the olefins used in plastics. But just because something is studied doesn’t mean the company will have to make up for its impact.

The city intends to employ what it’s calling a “tiered approach” to studying the near and far-reaching effects of the plant. That tiered approach means impacts at the site and “within U.S. territorial waters and within the Puget Sound region will be given the most attention.” Territorial waters extend 12 nautical miles into the Pacific Ocean.

For instance, the city’s study will examine how the plant will affect air quality — not just at the plant and surrounding area, but throughout Puget Sound, according to the draft scope.

That environmental review will also outline what the plant’s owners must do to compensate for negative effects to the environment, area neighborhoods, health, traffic and so forth.

The final scope of review could be ready by the end of March. A draft of the environmental review is due sometime this summer, with a final report expected by December or January 2017.

Among the issues the city proposes studying:

Air quality

▪ How additional shipping traffic affects air quality in Puget Sound and U.S. territorial waters. Northwest Innovation Works told the city it expects to send four to seven ships full of methanol to China per month.

▪ How particulate matter related to the project could harm air quality.

▪ How the company can mitigate for negative impacts to air quality.

Greenhouse gasses and climate change

▪ What the cumulative impact of Northwest Innovations’ three proposed plants would be on overall air quality, with greenhouse gasses warranting the “closest scrutiny.” The Tacoma plant, coupled with two others planned in the region, will produce 14.4 million metric tons of methanol per year — more than double the nation’s current 6.5 million metric tons per year produced by seven existing plants.

▪ What the plant’s water use will mean for the area’s water supply in an era of climate change, where more precipitation will fall as rain as opposed to snow. City planner Ian Munce said several residents raised concerns about more frequent droughts in future years.

▪ Whether the project complies with local, state, national and international agreements regarding greenhouse gas emissions.

Water and electricity use

▪ Whether the plant’s water use — the company says 10.4 million gallons daily — will exacerbate local water shortages.

▪ How the company’s use of water will affect water bills for people who rely on Tacoma’s water system.

▪ Where the plant will get its power and how that energy source affects the environment. The plant will require up to 450 megawatts of electricity. Tacoma Power’s entire customer base used 543 megawatts on average in 2014.

Emergency response

▪ How equipped federal, state and local responders are to “address spills, explosions and/or fire along the pipeline route, at the site and during the transfer for shipping the methanol.” Residents asked for detailed emergency response plans should a calamity strike the plant.

▪ How a natural disaster — such as an earthquake, volcanic eruption or tsunami — would complicate emergency response.

▪ What are the plans for evacuating the nearby Northwest Detention Center that houses immigration detainees in the event of an emergency.

Environmental and other costs of the project will be weighed against the benefits, such as job growth and increased tax revenue.

Munce said the breadth of public input so far has been remarkable. The scoping process for Northwest Innovation Works’ Kalama proposal drew dozens of comments, he said. “We are getting three or four letters every day — weekends included.”

In a prepared statement, Northwest Innovation Works said “We know there is considerable public interest in the project and we support opportunities that provide the public a chance to give input throughout the environmental review process.”

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542, @KateReports

Upcoming public meetings on methanol project

Wednesday, Feb. 10: Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center, fifth floor, 1500 Broadway. Doors open at 5 p.m. for speaker sign up and the meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. The room has space for 1,900 people. The meeting is intended to collect comment on the draft scope for the Environmental Impact Statement.

Tuesday, Feb. 16: Meeker Middle School, 4402 Nassau Avenue NE. Doors open at 5 p.m. for speaker sign up. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. There will be room for 200 people.

Comments may also be e-mailed to through March 4.