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The World’s Largest Methanol Refinery (and the fight to stop it)

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Photo by Rick Rappaport

The Fight to Stop the World’s Largest Methanol Refinery

Special for Climate Week: Barbara Bernstein’s story of several communities in the Pacific Northwest of the United States who are fighting mammoth fracked gas projects that would turn this green region into a fracked-gas export hub. For years, Bernstein has reported for Making Contact on David versus Goliath battles against oil and gas corporations, and the fight for a clean environment. Today you’ll hear part one of Bernstein’s project, Holding The Thin Green Line as we bring you, The World’s Largest Methanol Refinery.

Photo by Rick Rappaport. Episode transcript below.

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  • Barbara Bernstein, Writer, Narrator, & Producer of The World’s Largest Methanol Refinery 
  • Claudia Riedener is a ceramic artist and co-founder of the grassroots environmental group Redefine Tacoma.
  • Nanette Reetz lives in NE Tacoma and is part of Redefine Tacoma.
  • Val Peaphone is a union representative, Tacoma activist and member of Redefine Tacoma
  • Eric de Place is director of the Thin Green Line at Sightline Institute in Seattle.
  • Bill Kupinse teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Puget Sound
  • Todd Hay leads a data team at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is president of Advocates for a Cleaner Tacoma
  • Kristin Ang is a Tacoma lawyer who is running for a position on the Port of Tacoma Commission.  [She will very likely win, but we won’t know that until November]
  • Clare Petrich is a long-time Port of Tacoma Commissioner. [She will be retiring at the end of the year.]
  • Lou Paulsen is the director of Strategic Operations projects and risk management at the Port of Tacoma
  • Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky was senior organizer for Columbia Riverkeeper from 2012 – 2019. She was their principal organizer in Cowlitz County and did groundbreaking work in helping to coordinate opposition the Kalama Methanol Refinery. She now works for Friends of the Columbia Gorge on farm, forest and fish issues.
  • John Flynn is retired from Union Pacific Railroad and has lived in Kalama since 2010. An ardent sports fisherman, he became one of the early methanol opponents and is now running for Kalama City Council.
  • Sally Keely is a 21-year resident of Kalama and a mathematics professor at Clark College in Vancouver, WA. She along with her daughter Cambria and husband Mark have been fighting the Kalama methanol refinery since 2016.
  • Diane Dick, a 34 year resident of Cowlitz County, has been involved in local environmental issues since 2012.
  • Vee Godley is president of Northwest Innovation Works, a Chinese-backed company that wants to build the world’s largest methanol refinery in Kalama.
  • Dan Serres is the Conservation Director for Columbia Riverkeeper.
  • Peter Erickson is a senior scientist with Stockholm Environment Institute in Seattle. He co-wrote a discussion brief that examined Kalama Methanol’s extensive greenhouse gas emissions and also questioned whether the methanol would be used for fuel rather than making plastics, as Northwest Innovation Works was claiming.
  • Kevin Tempest is with the Low Carbon Prosperity Institute in Seattle, and was the lead researcher for a paper commissioned by Northwest Innovation Works that challenged Stockholm Environment Institute’s findings and supported the controversial draft supplemental environmental impact statement conclusions.



  • Episode Producer: Barbara Bernstein
  • Executive Director: Lisa Rudman
  • Staff Producers: Anita Johnson, Monica Lopez, Salima Hamirani
  • Audience Engagement Manager: Dylan Heuer
  • Associate Producer: Aysha Choudary
  • ___________________________   
  • Barbara Bernstein  received funding from: The Regional Arts and Culture Council, Steven and Jan Marx, and The Fund for Investigative Journalism.  


  • Barbara Bernstein Original Music Composition & Performance
  • Show open and Close Blue Dot Sessions, Grand Caravan


The World’s Largest Methanol Refinery

Vancouver, WA City Councilor: You all excited to be here? You all excited to here in the rain?

Crowd: Yeah!

City Councilor: That’s right, cause the rain’s not going to stop us but we are going to stop an oil terminal!


Reporter/Producer Barbara Bernstein:

It’s the end of January in 2018 and we are standing in a large crowd of Vancouver, Washington area residents, celebrating Governor Jay Inslee’s decision to pull the plug on North America’s largest oil by rail terminal slated for the Port of Vancouver. 


Alona Steinke: Thank you, Governor Inslee for listening to the people who submitted more than 1.3 million comments against the Tesoro-Savage Project. Thank you for saying NO to this project that was wrong for Vancouver, wrong for the state of Washington and wrong for the planet. And now, Governor, please help us move on to a renewable energy future by recognizing that natural gas is not a bridge fuel.


While communities across the Pacific Northwest were defeating coal and oil projects, new fracked gas proposals began to slip under the radar. In 2014 Northwest Innovation Works, a Chinese government-backed company, signed preliminary leases with the Ports at Kalama, Washington, Port Westward, Oregon and Tacoma, to build three massive methanol refineries. These facilities would import fracked gas from Canada and refine it into methanol, which would be shipped to China to manufacture plastics.


Claudia Riedener: We found out that the city and the port were planning to build the world’s largest methanol refinery right here in our port.


Claudia Riedener has lived in Tacoma since 1998. She is a ceramic artist and co-founder of the grassroots environmental group Redefine Tacoma.


Claudia: We had a problem here with our daily newspaper. They were throwing about 70 to 100 thousand plastic bags every week with advertising in them. And we got really upset and we decided to go this neighborhood council to get the community to put pressure on the city and on the paper to stop this ridiculous littering with plastic bags. So I went to a neighborhood council to talk about the plastic bags and when they introduced the methanol project, suddenly it was very clear that those plastic bags while a nuisance were just like a drop in the bucket compared to being the world’s largest plastic spigot to the world.


I went home with a really heavy heart and the first thing I did was research about what methanol was and where else in the world they were doing this. Finally I was so concerned that I started a MoveOn petition.


Nanette Reetz: I saw Claudia Riedener’s water petition.


Nanette Reetz lives in NE Tacoma and is part of Redefine Tacoma.


Nanette: I thought, what the heck is this? I didn’t know anything about it. She actually had her phone number on there and I called her and she set up a meeting at our local community.


Claudia: We decided that it was really important to go to the different neighborhoods and have different meetings. So the first meeting we organized was shortly thereafter in NE Tacoma, directly downwind from the port. We had a completely full house. We were totally shocked how many people showed up.


Val Peaphone: My wife went to a meeting. She came home and said, “You’re not going to believe this.”


Val Peaphone is a union representative and Tacoma activist.


Val: We started to research and learn about the methanol refinery, the water it was going to consume and the greenhouse gases it was going to emit. It became really obvious that this is a big problem and somebody has to step up to stop it.


Claudia: We tried to talk to the city council. They would politely listen to us but we would not elicit any responses.


Nanette: They told us that they couldn’t speak on the project, that they basically had a gag order. And then we find out that our mayor was in a video promoting it.


Claudia: There was Jay Inslee, our governor, Marilyn Strickland, our then mayor of Tacoma, and Connie Bacon, who was a port commissioner at the time, touting methanol, touting the environmental benefits.


Eric de Place: Tacoma is one of the few places in the Northwest where you’ve got a big industrial city that has a legacy of heavy contamination


Eric de Place is director of the Thin Green Line at Sightline Institute in Seattle.


Eric: You had the Asarco smelter, you’ve got paper pulp production at a massive scale at a massive scale, oil refinery that’s still there. We had a joke about it when I was a kid, the “Tacoma Aroma,” the smell that you would notice when you were passing by the Port.


Bill Kupinse: For tens of thousands of years, the Port of Tacoma was an estuary that was one of the most biologically rich and diverse areas in this region.


Bill Kupinse teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Puget Sound.


Bill: Then in a little more than a century, it has become one of the most toxic places in the United States.


Todd Hay: Asarco was basically a big smelter.


Todd Hay leads a data team at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

and is president of Advocates for a Cleaner Tacoma.


Todd: They would do mining for copper north of Lake Chelan and they’d rail it into the old Asarco smelter and they’d smelt that down, releasing a whole bunch of lead and arsenic into the air and so it created a pretty massive plume.


Nanette: The stack was here when I moved here and shortly after I moved here they took it down. I thought we were working towards a cleaner, greener Tacoma and busy raising my kids I didn’t realize till several years later, the industries that they’ve allowed to come in and continue to pollute.


Todd: A lot of the Port’s built on fill material that they brought in, say, from the old Asarco slag. Well it’s just toxic waste under there. The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department is continuing to do soil removals even to this day where the plume impacted the neighbors.


Kristin Ang: We’ve seen this history of, oh we need these projects like Asarco. But then we can’t use the land for anything else until later, we have to clean it up. And guess who pays. The public pays for it all the time.


Kristin Ang is a Tacoma lawyer who is running for a position on the Port of Tacoma Commission.


Kristin: Corporations leave or they only want to clean up half of it or a quarter of it. Otherwise they say, we’ll file bankruptcy.


Claudia: We heard about a meeting called The Thin Green Line. That’s where we met Eric de Place. And we realized just how threatened our little green ribbon of environment is by all these fossil fuels that are being fracked and extracted and they need to find a way to market and the way to market goes right through the Puget Sound area,


Eric: Northeast British Columbia, northern Alberta have just staggering reserves of natural gas trapped in these geological formations. But there are very few places that they can take the gas. By far the closest destination for these oceans of fracked gas is the Pacific Northwest. If we don’t consume it, if we don’t export it, if we don’t convert it into a petrochemical, they don’t have a market for it and so it will stay locked up under the ground.


Val: When people come together there is power in numbers. We had the community and the community was going to hold our elected officials responsible. They were going to hold this company responsible. People were going at noon on a Thursday to a Port Commission meeting. You have a brief amount of time to do what they call public comment at those meetings and so you get up there and you say what you have to say and you hope that you’re educating them and you hope that you’re reaching other members of the public and then you leave. The first couple of meetings weren’t very well attended, and by the end those meetings were standing room only.


Claudia: At the beginning the water was definitely the greatest concern. This refinery would have used 20 to 25 percent of the entire Green River, that supplies water to probably a million and a half people. This was right at a time when the city of Tacoma put signs all over town and said, please conserve water. We are in an emergency drought.


Kristin: Tacoma was pawn in a global energy game that everyone else knew about, lobbyists, politicians, but not necessarily people who lived in this community. And that was very upsetting.


Nanette: But we rallied. We had hundreds of people show up at the local meetings.


Val: They held a couple of scoping meetings where thousands of people showed up. At the scoping meeting everybody that wanted to could get up and say their questions, their concerns, their comments.


Clare Petrich: The company was not prepared for the questions that were being asked.


Clare Petrich is a long-time Port of Tacoma Commissioner.


Clare: and I think the community became extremely active in their opposition to it. What was difficult was the kind of opposition that came with people that had not looked carefully at what the issues were all about.


Claudia: Thousands of people had sincere, deep and well-researched questions. So all these people took their own personal time to learn about these facilities and I believe our community is better off for knowing all the things that we have learned. Nobody believed anything they said and when it came to the point where they were forced to get an extension on their lease, they hadn’t really produced anything about how they would try to conserve some water or conserve some electricity.


Nanette: Northwest Innovation Works decided to take a pause to the project. A couple more weeks after that they decided to withdraw the project.


While activists celebrated the demise of the methanol refinery, proponents like Lou Paulsen, the director of Strategic Operations projects and risk management at the Port of Tacoma, saw the defeat in a different light.


Lou: I think we missed an opportunity to describe that this project was going to displace a substantial amount of coal out of the manufacturing processes in China. I think had we approached it from that standpoint, it would have reshaped the very way in which people looked at the project.


Claudia: We knew all along that Northwest Innovation Works had actually planned to build three methanol refineries right here in the Northwest. After we defeated methanol in Tacoma, Northwest Innovation Works moved to Kalama and started up their refinery there in earnest and we stand in solidarity with Kalama and helped them out as much as we could with posters and banners and buttons and shared all our documents and information.


Jasmine Zimmer Stucky: Kalama‘s a very idyllic community. It’s up on a hill. Most homes have amazing views of the Columbia River.


John Flynn: I can drive down to the Marina, park, walk down to my boat and in five minutes I can be on the river fishing.


Jasmine: The Port of Kalama has provided waterfront access. They’re also providing access for Northwest Innovation Works.


Sally Keely: When I moved to Kalama I thought that the Port had its big industries.


Sally Keely is a 21-year resident of Kalama and a mathematics professor at Clark College in Vancouver, WA. She along with her daughter Cambria and husband Mark have been fighting the Kalama methanol refinery since 2016.


Sally: I thought that they would be more progressive and bring in things that were more sustainable. Maybe solar industry or making windmills.


Jasmine: It would be the largest methanol refinery in the world which is pretty surprising because if you go to a town like Kalama with a few thousand people, nothing there is the largest in the world.


Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky was senior organizer for Columbia Riverkeeper from 2012 – 2019.


Jasmine: It’s so out of proportion to what the community looks like, feels like, wants to be.


Many of the people who opposed the methanol refinery were veterans of past fossil fuel struggles along the Columbia River. Twelve years earlier, a massive pipeline was being proposed to carry fracked gas to Liquid Natural Gas export terminals planned for Clatsop County, OR, on the other side of the Columbia River about forty miles downstream from Kalama. The pipeline would have crossed the properties of many landowners in Cowlitz County. These residents banded together with people in Oregon, and over a twelve-year period, stopped all of the LNG projects from being built. But as they were defeating LNG, the largest coal terminal in North America was being proposed for Longview, just nine miles north of Kalama. So the LNG opponents refocused their efforts on fighting the coal terminal.


Jasmine: We were all in with the coal fight. We had actually an office in downtown Longview, where we were staging all our field operations.


Columbia Riverkeeper was one of a handful of regional environmental groups opposing fossil fuel projects in Cowlitz County. Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky was their point person in Longview.


Jasmine: I specifically remember this fellow walked into our office, kind of just off the street, and he said, you know, I hate the coal, it’s the worst thing ever, I wish we were fighting the methanol refinery in Kalama. And it was just like a message from the universe. And so, we called a couple of our folks that we knew in Kalama and we asked, did they know about this. They said, they were concerned. They’d like to fight it and so we said, great, we’d like to fight it with you.


Sally: We had this huge Columbia Riverkeeper hosted meeting to try to understand the actual facts and how to give comments in hearings. Two days later there was a huge hearing attended by over a thousand people, most of them proponents of the project because of the jobs that they had been promised. Cambria at age fourteen spoke at that meeting, I did too.


Sally [speaking at 2016 Draft Environmental Impact Study hearing for Kalama methanol]: As a parent, mathematician, educator and citizen of Kalama, I vehemently oppose the fracked gas to methanol refinery and export terminal. This refinery would emit over a million tons of carbon dioxide a year, the total carbon emissions of roughly a quarter million cars.


Cambria Keely [speaking at 2016 Draft Environmental Impact Study hearing for Kalama methanol]: My name is Cambria Keely and I’m a citizen of Kalama. Over the past fifteen years, the aspects that I and others have most treasured of my home town were its pure water and clean air. Now with a proposal of this methanol refinery, these features are threatened.


John Flynn: My neighbor and I attended the initial meeting to try to find out a little bit more about what was going on.


John Flynn is retired from Union Pacific Railroad and has lived in Kalama since 2010.


John: The more information I gathered and the more involved I got, the stronger my objection to this project became.


Diane Dick: I got on the internet and wanted to know about methanol refineries. How large they were and where they were located. I wanted to know what the impacts of a methanol refinery were on the local community.


Diane Dick, a 34 year resident of Cowlitz County, has been involved in local environmental issues since 2012.


Diane: I realized this is going to be the world’s largest methanol refinery, here in Kalama. Why Kalama? We’re not going to use the methanol in Kalama. It’s going to Asia.


John: NWIW chose Kalama as a soft target, somewhat economically depressed, so they came in here touting tax revenue to the county, to the local school district, jobs, jobs, jobs.


Jasmine: The recipe that has been used at every facility across the Northwest, the first thing you do is make agreements with the building trades that they will build this project.


Vee Godly [speaking at SW Washington Clean Air Agency permit hearing in 2017]: During construction we’ll employ up to a thousand construction workers.


Vee Godley, president of Northwest Innovation Works, gave a presentation in 2017 at a clean air permit hearing for the methanol refinery.


Vee Godley: We’ll have approximately two hundred fulltime direct employees during operations and we’ll also provide for 500 indirect and induced jobs because of our project.


John: I don’t know anybody in the town of Kalama who would be qualified to work in a petrochemical refinery. A lot of the people would be brought in either from China or from the Gulf Coast who have refinery experience.


Diane: I think we’ve been courted by speculators and entrepreneurs who realize that there is a certain naivete about this area and a certain provincialism. We’re not aware of some of the broader issues or we’re not aware of the questions we need to ask.


Sally: Northwest Innovation Works has never built a methanol plant before. This way of taking fracked methane gas and turning it into methanol has never been done on an industrial scale before.


Diane: Where they propose to put it is been on dredge spoils. This is a naturally low lying area. None of the Port is diked, so it’s all subject to sea level rise. You also have the impacts of large tanker vessels coming up the Columbia River and impacting other vessel traffic and fish and wildlife.


John: The plant would have a 240-foot flare stack for burning off the excess volatile organic compounds.


Vee Godley: What is methanol? Methanol is naturally occurring. Our bodies naturally produce methanol as part of how we process internally. When trees break down they produce methanol. Methanol is the simplest alcohol known to man. It’s not carcinogenic. It’s biodegradable and it’s odorless.


Diane: When you have methanol spill into a river, it basically is going to kill whatever’s in the river.


Dan Serres: Methanol can consume the oxygen as it mixes with water and so you can have a fish kill associated with a methanol spill.


Dan Serres is the Conservation Director for Columbia Riverkeeper.


Dan: In the Columbia River obviously at the mouth of the Kalama River, that’s really prime fishing territory.


John: This project site is proposed very, very near two of my favorite spots to fish for salmon in the Columbia River.


John Flynn retired to Kalama because of the area’s outstanding fishing.


John: and I just cannot see myself out there in my boat, fishing with family and friends, with this methanol refinery looming over the river and spewing clouds of vapor and potentially hazardous byproducts into the air.


Dan: People are going to have to live next to this thing and everyday stare at this massive plume hanging above them, with all the volatile organic compounds and other contaminants that will be coming out of it.


Sally: The methanol plant is actually a three phase operation.


Sally Keely with Clean Air Kalama


Sally: one of which is the 3.1 mile lateral pipeline from the Williams Northwest fracked gas pipeline, that runs north-south, over to the Kalama Methanol plant.


John: Through the use of eminent domain they would force their way through private property and a pioneer cemetery, just to deliver the methane gas to this methanol refinery.


Sally: Eminent domain is used primarily for things like, if you need to bring a major highway through or you have to expand an airport. It’s not for corporate gain. And here we have eminent domain used to take private citizens land for a private, corporate, LCC company to bring in this pipeline for their methanol plant so that we can export our natural resources.


Diane: There were some people up there who might not have been opposed to the methanol refinery but they certainly were opposed to that pipeline.


Jasmine: To find like the impacted landowners along the pipeline, I just like looked at the tax file property lots and traced what I thought was the route of the Kalama Lateral Pipeline and sent a bunch of letters saying, are you on the pipeline route? If so, give me a call and a couple weeks later I got a dozen phone calls.


In September 2018 Kalama methanol opponents gathered for a picnic at the historic Mt. Pleasant Cemetery near Kalama, in the path of the pipeline route.


Jasmine: Where we are standing is along the proposed pipeline route that would supply fracked gas from the Rockies in Canada, or the Colorado Rockies, to the proposed refinery. Along the road you’ll see pink flagging tape. That’s the proposed pipeline route. The pipeline would be a high pressure gas pipeline, 24 inches, that would come along with a hundred foot construction right of way and a 75 foot permanent easement for the company to access the pipeline whenever they needed it. All of you are giving your time, we’re asking you to give your time in the future to help bring an end to this project just like you have with the coal terminal in Longview and the oil terminal in Vancouver. So thank you very much. [applause]


Jasmine: The Port of Kalama is the landlord for the land that Northwest Innovation Works wants to build on, and Cowlitz County is slated to receive a significant amount of tax revenue from this project. All of the folks who slated to make a lot of money are the ones making the decisions around the environmental review.


Community Member at Clean Air Permit Hearing: Everybody, there’s Richard Debolt. He is our state representative member and he works for IT services in San Diego NWIW. This is a complete conflict of interest and breach of code of ethics [voice interrupting, hey! hey! hey! I think we may have to] so I think everyone should ask on the way out, how it is not a breach of the code of ethics to work for this company and receive money from the Chinese government. Thank you! [applause]


Diane: The president of the company, Vee Godley, was lobbying to have NWIW receive favorable tax treatment for this project. So at the same time they’re saying this is going to be profitable for the community they’re trying to reduce their tax burden at the state legislature.


Diane Dick, Cowlitz County activist


Diane: and having someone like Richard DeBolt in the state legislature casts a shadow on the ethics involved in having our government officials support these projects before the permits are even issued.


Jasmine: We actually did some records request and we found that Washington State thought that it was going to need to have its environmental review be housed under EFSEC, the Energy Facility Siting Evaluation Council. Northwest Innovation Works followed up with a few emails that we also got through public records request saying, we actually think that it’s a project that is more appropriate to be reviewed by the Port of Kalama and Cowlitz County, and unfortunately the state acquiesced.


John: About a year ago, things were looking pretty grim when some of the permits were granted.


Jasmine: Columbia Riverkeeper, Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity appealed some of the findings of the Environmental Impact Statement and the Shorelines Permits, and we won. They agreed with our claim that the project would need to have a new Environmental Impact Statement that actually looked at the emissions from fracking, emissions along the pipeline route with methane leakage and emissions from shipping. The legal victory invalidated a number of the permits that Northwest Innovation Works was holding.


John: Once those numbers are made public I am very, very hopeful that our governor, the state Department of Ecology, the Department of Natural Resources will all come out against permitting this project.


Jasmine [at scoping comments writing workshop in Kalama]: So we’re here today to learn how to write public comments for the comment period we’re in right now regarding the Kalama methanol refinery. Folks from the Pacific Northwest have submitted over 18,000 public comments in opposition to this project so though Kalama is a small town, you are not alone in your opposition, in your concern. Folks from around the region are standing up to support you.


Jasmine: There are two opportunities during these environmental reviews for the public to get involved. The first is scoping and then the second is when the draft environmental impact statement comes out.


But when the draft supplemental environmental impact statement was released local headlines proclaimed that Kalama Methanol will result in a reduction of GHG.


Sally: I wasn’t surprised to see the way that they spun the numbers and downplayed the ramifications, in particular by choosing this ridiculously low number in the methane leaks from the fracking well site and the pipelines.


Sally Keely with Clean Air Kalama


Sally: The numbers that other reports are showing is between 2.7% leakage rate and a 17% leakage rate and yet they chose to use in this dSEIS a .32% leakage rate.


Peter Erickson: That number comes from a study from the year 2000 by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. All the science that’s happened since then has shown leakages many times worse, not only in the U.S. but also in Canada.


Peter Erickson is a senior scientist with Stockholm Environment Institute in Seattle. During comment writing workshops, opponents circulated a discussion brief he co-wrote that examined Kalama Methanol’s extensive greenhouse gas emissions and also questioned whether the methanol would be used for fuel rather than making plastics, as Northwest Innovation Works was claiming.


Peter: A recent paper published in the journal Science in 2018 looked at almost all the studies over the last decade. They came up with a system-wide methane loss rate of 2.3%.


NWIW commissioned the Low Carbon Prosperity Institute in Seattle to write a paper challenging Stockholm Environment Institute’s findings & supporting the draft supplemental environmental impact statement conclusions. Kevin Tempest was the lead researcher.


Kevin Tempest: This is a long term infrastructure project so if it goes into place over the course of time leakage rates aren’t going to be what they are today necessarily. I would like to be optimistic that we’re going to do something about methane leakage over the long time because it’s something that can be addressed.


Peter: There’s not very much reason to be optimistic. There’s no indication that overall methane loss is really going down and we’ve just had a premier elected in Alberta elected in Alberta who based his platform on rolling back regulations on the oil and gas industry. Some of the gas for this project would probably come from Alberta. Some of the gas in the EIS that is claimed as British Columbian is not. It’s Albertan. And there’s no excuse for using a very low less than one percent methane loss rate in the EIS


In sharp contrast to the initial methanol refinery public hearings a few years earlier, which were dominated by supporters of the project, the December 2018 public hearing for draft Supplemental Environmental Statement was filled with vocal and impassioned opponents of the methanol refinery. Local residents were joined by hundreds of people from across the region who voiced their opposition, including a contingent from Tacoma. The only supporters were businesses with financial interests in the project, building trades union members and local elected officials.


Dennis Webber, Cowlitz County Commissioner: As a member of the Cowlitz County Board of Commissioners I congratulate the applicant for its life cycle analysis of greenhouse gas emissions. In a world filled with significant tradeoffs where the good is not the enemy of the perfect, I believe this proposal is an important step forward in building a cleaner future for the entire Pacific Rim. The opponents come dangerously close to supporting a rather racist attitude if they believe we have our riches and wealthy standard of living, you don’t get yours.


Claudia Riedener: Good evening everybody, my name is Claudia Riedener. The people in Dalian, China, would be recipients of this methanol if it’s not being used for fuel, but as a feedstock as promised. The people in Dalian have been in the streets by the tens of thousands because the plastic factories in China are polluting the air so badly that the people in Dalian cannot breathe. Do we want to further that? Do we want to be the plastic spigot to the world and pollute the world here and pollute it over there as well?


Paul Thiers: My name is Paul Thiers. I’m a professor at Washington State University Vancouver. I’m trained as a political scientist and my primary research area is China. The claim of net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions relies on this idea that the methanol will be used to feed the chemical industry. In fact, when oil drops below $80 a barrel, naphtha cracking, the traditional method for making olefins in China is the cheapest and preferred method. Since we’re just over $50 a barrel now, I think there’s almost no chance that any of this product will be used offset coal. If the price of oil is taken into account, it’s very clear that this product is going to end up being used as transportation fuel, which will change the GHG analysis completely and I think that the dSEIS needs to be redone for that reason.


Cambria Keely: My name is Cam Keely and I am a 17 year old resident of Kalama, Washington. Northwest Innovation Works and the Port of Kalama spin their truth in their favor by cherry-picking data to put in the dSEIS. One glaring example is using stats from the United Nations IPCC 2007 assessment but not even referencing the more recent IPCC 2014 assessment.


Peter Erickson: They in their EIS are using incorrect analysis from 18, 19 years ago. It really raises questions about what their motivations are and when they don’t respond to the basic points about what they’re doing it starts to look like they’re purposefully obfuscating the underlying facts about methane and about how methane contributes to the impact of Kalama.

Jasmine: People are sick of being walked on. They’re sick of being told by their decision makers that all you deserve is increased cancer rates because of this dirty coal terminal, followed by this dirty oil terminal, followed by two propane export terminal proposals. It has just been piled on to these community members in Cowlitz County and they have had enough.

Along the front lines of the Northwest’s struggle against fracked gas, this is Barbara Bernstein for Making Contact.


Lisa Rudman:

 The World’s Largest Methanol Refinery was written, narrated and produced by Barbara Bernstein, who also composed and performed the music.

(What you’re hearing now is by Blue Dot Sessions.)

Melissa Marsland, Patsy Kullberg and Lisa Rudman were editing consultants.

Barbara Bernstein received funding from

The Regional Arts and Culture Council, Steven and Jan Marx,

and The Fund for Investigative Journalism.

Special thanks to Columbia Riverkeeper, Rogue Climate, Claudia Riedener and John Carlton.

If you enjoyed this program, go to for more episodes of Making Contact.





Author: Lisa Rudman

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