Exit133 is about Tacoma
Methanol, Tacoma, Process, Politics, Facts, Fears
The biggest topic of conversation in Tacoma right now is the proposal by NW Innovation Works to build a methanol refinery in the Tide Flats. You can't get away from the dicussion - in coffee shops, break rooms, and on the sidewalk, everyone seems to be talking about it. So many people showed up to a public comment event at the Convention Center last week that they exceeded the room's capacity - by hundreds of people - prompting the City to add another comment opportunity in a bigger room.
There are a lot of opinions out there, a lot of concern, some confusion, and a lot of motivated citizens talking and taking action. It's enough to make you feel like you should know what's going on.
The anti-methanol plant folks are vocal about their concerns, mainly over the environmental impacts of the plant on our air, water, and general public safety. The pro voices, when we hear them, argue for the economic boost, including hundreds of jobs in the area. There are details and nuances to these positions that you can find in comment threads all over the Tacoma internet.
What the methanol plant isn't: the already approved Puget Sound Energy Liquefied Natural Gas plant.
What it is:
Sightline.org last September posted an in-depth look at methanol refineries. If you want to know a bit of the science and the politics behind the protests, it's worth a read.
Here are some highlights of the process:
- Natural gas would arrive at the proposed refinery via pipeline. That pipeline would have to travel under parts of Pierce County, including Fife and the Port of Tacoma.
- At the plant, chemistry happens, and that natural gas is transformed into manufacturing-grade methanol.
- The whole process uses a lot of energy. It would also use a whole lot of water for production and cooling purposes.
- The final product of all of this would be transported to China, where it would be transformed into olefins - basic elements of plastic manufacturing.
- Plastics made from these olefins are turned into everything from cell phones to fleece jackets.
And some highlights of the politics:
- NW Innovation Works is backed by the Chinese government.
- The methanol produced here and transported to China would be used instead of coal, which China has (and uses) a lot of, to fuel new plastics manufacturing. Doing so would be cheaper than shipping the coal from interior China to the coast where the plastics manufacturing would take place.
- Plastics made from this kind of process are turned into everything from cell phones to fleece jackets.
- The property in question is owned by the Port of Tacoma, which has already approved a lease of the old Kaiser Alumninum smelter site to NW Innovation Works in 2014. The minutes from that meeting (pdf) make for interesting reading.
Where we're at right now:
The project is in the state environmental review phase. At this point the City of Tacoma, acting as the lead agency on the Environmental Impact Statement, is collecting public comment on the scope of the review. The EIS will identify the likely impacts of the plant, should it get built.
The scoping process continues into February, with public comment opportunities set for Wednesday, February 10 at the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center, and Tuesday, February 16 at Meeker Middle School in NE Tacoma. In response to the initial comment opportunity last week that exceeded the capacity of the Convention Center room it was booked in, the City added the February 10 meeting. That event will be held in the in the Exhibition Hall, which has a capacity of 1,900.
This phase of the process is the time for the public to comment on the potential impacts they want to make sure are studied during the EIS process - potential environmental impacts, alternatives, and mitigations. Comments can also be made in writing via mail, email, or fax (sidebar: people still fax?).
Once the scope has been set, there is still the EIS process itself to get through, including another opportunity for public comment once the draft EIS has been developed. And there will be a lot of permitting to get through after this. According to the NWIW project page, the following are necessary permits for the project:
- Puget Sound Clean Air Agency construction air contaminant permit
- A construction Stormwater permit
- A permit to construct a lateral pipeline
- City of Tacoma Shoreline Substantial Development Permit
- Department of Ecology Water Quality Certification
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Sections 10 and 404 permits
If the project makes it through all of these permits, construction on a first phase of the plant could begin in 2018. If you have opinions, there are a few opportunities to express them coming up.
If you're looking for more information, there are a few places to get it.
- The NWIW project page has information from the company, including this project overview.
- There's also information from the Port of Tacoma - the property owner for the site in question.
- And of course the City of Tacoma, as lead agency on the EIS, has a project page as well.
- Then there's the Sightline article, which has been making the rounds of the social mediasphere this week.
For even more information - facts on the science behind the project - Tacoma's Center for Urban Waters is hosting a four-part series on the methanol plant proposal. Citizens for a Healthy Bay will be collecting questions and topics to be addressed at each of the events. The events will "focus on providing scientific answers to issues already raised by the local community." Speakers will include scientists and other experts who will address issues raised to form a common understanding of the technical and scientific aspects of this complex project.
- February 11, 2016 @ 6-8pm: Framing the issues: Local to global perspectives
- February 25, 2016 @ 6-8pm Potential impacts on regional water and power supplies
- March 3, 2016 @ 6-8pm Potential implications for the local environment
- March 10, 2016 @ 6-8pm Developing a common understanding to refine the discussion
There are a lot of opinions, and a lot of information out there - what questions do you still have?
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