5 Question Friday Regarding The Proposed Methanol Plant

port of tacoma

If you live in Tacoma, you’ve probably heard something about the methanol plant being proposed for the Port of Tacoma. There have been recent meetings about the topic. The Tacoma City Council has been notably quiet about the issue. (Though it is worth noting that the idea for this 5 Question Friday came from a Tacoma City Councilperson who contacted me.) The neighboring Federal Way City Council just last night held an emergency session to condemn the plan.

Over the last few weeks, I have contacted many people about this issue. And for this week’s 5 Question Friday I contacted the Port of Tacoma (the location where the plant may be built), NW Innovation Works (the company building the plant), and Redline Tacoma (a grassroots activist group against the plant). I asked them each the same five questions. The idea here is to get different perspectives on the same topic from people closer to this project than I am.

Here we go: 

1.What is the basic plan at this time for the proposed methanol plant?

Port of Tacoma: I’ll defer to Northwest Innovation Works on its plans for the proposed facility.

NW Innovation Works: NW Innovation Works proposes to construct a two-phased, $3.4 billion gas-to-methanol plant at the Port of Tacoma. Methanol produced at this facility will be exported to Asia, where companies will convert it to olefins, which are the building blocks of products we use every day like medical supplies; safety and industrial equipment; consumer electronics like smartphones, televisions and computers; and clothing. The plant will include up to four methanol production lines, each with a production capacity of 5,000 metric tons per day, for a total of 20,000 metric tons per day. At the peak of construction, the project will create up to 1,000 jobs. Once operational, the facility will employ approximately 260 full-time jobs.

The plant will utilize ultra-low emissions (ULE) reforming technology, which will emit substantially lower greenhouse gas and other air pollutants compared to conventional technologies for reforming natural gas to methanol.

The facility is planned for the former Kaiser property, returning the site to productive use for industrial manufacturing that generates jobs and local revenue. Nearby facilities include Schnitzer Steel, Targa Sound Terminals, and Port of Tacoma breakbulk- and containerized cargo facilities. The Port of Tacoma approved a lease agreement with NW Innovation Works in May 2014, allowing the permitting processes with the appropriate regulatory agencies to begin.

Redline Tacoma: NWIW Tacoma LLC proposed the largest methanol refinery in the world for the heart of our city. NWIW LLC never built anything, anywhere. The refinery is proposed to consume 14.4 million gallons of fresh drinking water per day, 450 MW electricity and 524 million cubic feet of fracked gas per day. It would pump about 1.4 million gallons polluted waste water each day into the City of Tacoma water treatment facility and it would release toxins such as sulfur dioxide, benzene and formaldehyde. The sole purpose for the refinery would be to feed a plastics manufacturing facility in the city of Dalian, China, who is also a financial backer of the project.

 

2. What aspect of this project do you feel is most misunderstood by the public?

Port of Tacoma:  When the studies are complete, the data may well show the facility has a significant net environmental benefit. Facts about a proposed development are fleshed out during the environmental review process, but, in this case, misinformation without any basis in fact has been allowed to overshadow data and rational conversation. Here are some of the reasons the Port of Tacoma considered this proposal a good fit for the former Kaiser Aluminum smelter site.

  • Environmental benefits: Many of the products we use every day—cell phones, eyeglasses and contact lenses, exercise clothing and gear, medical devices, carpeting, toys, camping gear, the plastic components in buses, trains, airplanes and other common items—have traditionally been made with coal and oil. Replacing coal and oil with methanol, a clean, biodegradable manufacturing feedstock, would improve global air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Environmental regulation: I have heard some people express concerns that the facility would pollute our air, water and land. Washington state has among the most stringent regulations in the nation. A manufacturing facility that cannot meet or exceed these hundreds of regulations could not be built. The contamination the Port removed from the property after purchasing it from Kaiser occurred before these regulations existed.
  • Proven commodity: Methanol facilities have operated safely all over the world for decades. The Methanol Institute, an industry association, reports there are more than 90 facilities all over the world, and each day more than 80,000 metric tons of methanol is shipped from one continent to another. More information about methanol facilities and uses is available on the Methanol Institute’s website: http://www.methanol.org/Methanol-Basics/The-Methanol-Industry.aspx.
  • Environmental review process: Many people professed shock that they hadn’t heard of the proposal until now, when, in fact, the environmental review process is the first step in examining the feasibility of a development. The steps generally are environmental review (scope, draft EIS, final EIS) and permit applications—all of which have public comment periods—before any construction can begin. A typical comment period is 30 days with one public hearing. This process is more than twice the standard.

NW Innovation Works: The NW Innovation Works Tacoma facility offers a more environmentally responsible way to produce the items we all use every day. By using natural gas instead of coal, emissions are reduced 70 percent. NWIW is taking an even bigger step by using ultra-low emission technology, which result in an even greater (up to 75 percent more) reduction in emissions compared to coal.

Methanol is water-soluble, bio-degradable, and non-carcinogenic. You can buy methanol at your grocery store, gas station, hardware store and even on Amazon.com. The methanol produced at the Tacoma facility will not be used just for cheap plastic products, but instead for several important products we use every day, like insulin pumps, hearing aids, smartphones, eyeglasses, contact lenses, clothing, industrial equipment and more.

Redline Tacoma: The Pacific Northwest and in particular the Puget Sound region is becoming a major through way for massive fossil fuel exports. Tacoma already has the distinction of being traversed with the most oil trains, 80,000 barrels a day and climbing, rattling away on underinsured, publicly owned Tacoma Rail. Also proposed for the port of Tacoma is a Bellevue-based, Australia owned PugetSoundEnergy LLC Liquefied Natural Gas export facility. This LNG tank would be 18 stories tall and hold 8 million gallons of liquid fracked gas held at MINIS 260 degrees. LNG is very dangerous and international standards say it can only be built 3 miles away from civilians. We are not just dealing with methanol, but with becoming the toxic petrochemical kitchen for exporting our natural resources at an unprecedented scale.

3. Residential use of water in Tacoma is 5.7 million gallons a year. The new plant requires 3.8 million gallons a year. We had a drought last summer where we were all told to conserve 10% of our water. If similar conditions should occur in the future, what assurances do we have that residential use of water will have the priority?

Port of Tacoma:  I’ll defer to Northwest Innovation Works and/or Tacoma Public Utilities on the proposed facility’s water use and availability and sources of water.

NW Innovation Works: Tacoma Water has 242 million gallons available on a daily basis and an additional 183 million gallons in storage, according to the Tacoma Public Utilities website (http://www.mytpu.org/tacomawater/water-source/supply-storage.htm).

And according to data available from the TPU’s publicly available 2014 Financial Statement, this is the breakdown of water use on an annual and daily basis:

Data from 2014 Financial Statements

Customer class Billion gal/year Million gal/day
WestRock (papermill) 6.05 16.6
Residential 7.97 21.8
All other, Commercial and Industrial 3.17 8.7
Total 17.19 47.1

NWIW will employ innovative design features that allow for greater volumes of water to be reused throughout the process. The majority of the water at the plant will be used for cooling and will be released back into the atmosphere as water vapor, with small percentages consumed in the methanol production process.

We will work with the Port of Tacoma and Tacoma Public Utilities to make sure we are responsible during regular and potentially changing conditions.

Redline Tacoma: There are no assurances at this point. Who will get the water? Hospitals, schools, Metro Parks, breweries, hotels, farmers, salmon, vegetables, paper industry, export facilities or the already fastest water bottling plant in the world Niagara Bottling? Niagara’s water use went up drastically during the drought, see below: Niagara water use '14,'15.

 

4. What infrastructure will be in place to handle the practical and financial consequences if something goes wrong at the plant and there’s an explosion or other dangerous incident?

Port of Tacoma: Here’s what we know so far. A new fire station is scheduled to open in the Tideflats area as a result of Puget Sound Energy’s planned liquefied natural gas facility. An Intelligent Transportation System, which will help guide traffic through the industrial area, is also planned for the Tideflats. The Environmental Impact Statement will determine what other enhancements might be required.

NW Innovation Works: We absolutely understand that safety is a community concern, and it’s one shared by the project team. Safety is always our first priority. Methanol is safely produced, manufactured, stored and transported within the United States and internationally. NWIW will maintain this strong safety record and is committed to working with stakeholders and community members to build a facility that meets or exceeds applicable safety standards.

We are working with appropriate emergency responders and authorities to plan state-of-the art safety systems as we plan our system design. We will develop emergency preparedness and response plans for local and state approval to address potential spills, fire and security at each site. In addition, each facility will have a dedicated and trained on-site fire brigade and equipment to support emergency response.

Redline Tacoma:  NWIW Tacoma LLC is a limited liability corporation. LLC’s take the profits and pay it out to investors. The money is gone. Should something go wrong, they simply declare bankruptcy and Tacoma and the Port will have to deal with it. Should the accident be bad enough we can call FEMA. NWIW Tacoma LLC is not just one corporations, it is made up of several LLC’s, or shell companies. They can re-incorporate every year and can have a tax shelter somewhere in a tax-free heaven. Tacoma in its history always let industry pollute and when they made enough profit, they pull out and leave the toxic mess for Tacoma to clean up and live with it.

5. Do you see the methanol plant as a good thing for the future of the city and port of Tacoma and why?

Port of Tacoma: Tacoma has the opportunity to reduce global greenhouse gases to address climate change by providing cleaner alternatives to the coal and oil currently used to produce consumer goods we use every day. It’s important for us to fully understand the potential impacts of any development. I hope people will keep an open mind as we gather all the facts because we have an opportunity be a global climate leader, helping build a bridge to a cleaner future while creating valuable jobs for our community.

If the environmental review demonstrates the proposal’s feasibility, this could be a positive transformational project that provides global environmental benefits, hundreds of family-wage jobs and sizable city and school tax revenues.

NW Innovation Works: Tacoma has a proud history of pioneering innovation and being at the forefront of embracing the opportunities of our ever changing world.  With the NWIW proposal, we have the chance to build on that foundation and create a better future not just for ourselves, but for everyone who is concerned about climate change.

NWIW is proposing to pioneer a technology that that can transform how methanol is produced, removing coal from the equation and providing the world a cleaner way to manufacture goods essential to our daily lives.

This facility provides a way for Tacoma to be part of the global fight to reduce climate change. In addition, the project represents a $3.4 billion investment in the local economy that will create approximately 1,000 jobs during construction and 260 full-time jobs during operation of the facility.

Redline Tacoma:  Turning our publicly owned natural resources into a toxic chemical for export and plastic manufacturing is stunningly short sighted.

 

I want to thank the representatives at the Port of Tacoma, NW Innovation Works, and Redline Tacoma for taking time out of their schedules to answer these questions.

You can find further information about the Port of Tacoma on their website at http://portoftacoma.com

You can find further information about NW Innovation Works at http://nwinnovationworks.com/

You can find further information about Redline Tacoma at http://redlinetacoma.org/

What are your thoughts on the methanol plant? Feel free to comment. All comments are moderated by me, but I’ll be fairly open to whatever you want to post as long as it’s substantive. 

– Jack Cameron

Third Tacoma Homicide of 2016: Julian “Jay” Thomas

Julian Thomas

On Monday, February 2nd, 23-year-old Julian Thomas was in a good mood. He and two others were on their way to pick up his newborn son. They stopped at a gas station on Center and Union just after 12:30pm. Julian who went by Jay was in the driver’s seat when a 29-year-old he had a dispute with a few months ago recognized him.

Witnesses say there were no words exchanged and that the man proceeded to fire a 9mm pistol at Jay in his car, reloading twice and firing a total of 46 bullets. Ten of those bullets hit Jay. Miraculously no one else was hit with the barrage of bullets the shooter unleashed.

As of this writing the shooter is said to have fled to California with his brother. Both have been charged and are wanted fugitives.

The senselessness of this murder cannot be overstated. The only solace to be found is that there were not more victims and this sort of thing doesn’t happen very often around here. A child will now grow up without his father for no good reason whatsoever simply because a man with a gun lacked the moral fortitude to control himself.

Jay’s family has set up a crowdfunding page to help the family with this tragic event. The link is here.

As always the comments section is reserved for those who knew Jay and want to share thoughts or memories of the man who was lost. All comments are moderated by me.

– Jack Cameron

Second Tacoma Homicide of 2016: Jacqueline Salyers

jacquelinesalyers

On the Friday morning of January 29th on Tacoma’s South Side two police officers recognized a known fugitive sitting in the passenger seat of a car in the 3300 block of South Sawyer Street. In the driver’s seat was 32-year-old Jacqueline Salyers. When the officers attempted to approach the car, Jacqueline hit the gas. As the car barreled towards them, one officer fired at the car hitting Jacqueline with one bullet. The fugitive escaped on foot carrying a rifle and as of this writing has not yet been apprehended. The officers called for paramedics but Jacqueline died on the scene.

This is Tacoma second homicide this year and the first police involved shooting this year. Some have asked me why I count police involved homicides. The reason for this is that even when it is justified a life taken is a life taken. I would include vehicular homicides, but that gets fairly complicated. Ultimately, I’m a big believer in the thought that we are not just the worst things people know about us. There is a fairly small but vocal group that feels otherwise and thinks a criminal is a criminal. I know that a criminal is often a mother, a daughter, a dear friend, or a sister. Sometimes that ‘criminal’ isn’t even a criminal.

My point here is that at TacomaStories I focus on the victim and what was right with the victim. I try to write articles imagining the victim can read it. I wasn’t able to discover much about Jacqueline. As always, I leave it to those who knew her to share stories and memories of her in the comments section. All comments are moderated by me.

– Jack Cameron

First Tacoma Homicide of 2016: Dylan Lee Oman

dylanoman

Name: Dylan Lee Oman

Age: 18

Date of Homicide: January 11, 2016

Location of Incident: Brown’s Point Blvd. & Mc Murray Road

Method of death: Shot

It’s 2016. I started writing about Tacoma Homicides back in 2006. This will be year eleven. And unfortunately this year didn’t even get into its second week before we lost another Tacoman to homicide. Another shooting. Another teenager. Another soul who will never reach their potential. This is the seventh teenager killed in Tacoma in the last year.

Dylan Lee Oman was a likable kid from Northeast Tacoma. He attended Stadium High School at one point. That’s where my son met him. They weren’t close, but they knew each other well enough. Dylan liked to help people.

In the early morning hours of January 11th, Dylan had joined a couple of friends in a car. They were going to find another friend who had fallen in with a bad crowd. At around 3:30am there was a confrontation. Shots were fired. Dylan was hit twice. He died later at the hospital.

Northeast Tacoma isn’t known for violent crime, but if there’s one thing covering homicides has taught me, it’s that no neighborhood is immune to crime.

As with so many murders of young people, I don’t have much I can share with you about Dylan. Like any teenager, he was nothing but potential. We will never know what we’ve truly lost with his death.

At the time of this writing, there have been no arrests in this case. People with any information are asked to call the Tacoma Police Department at 253-798-4721

As always the comments section is reserved for those who knew the victim and want to share memories or thoughts about the victim. The comment section is moderated and each comment is approved before it is posted.

I’m sure you can imagine this sudden loss has created a financial hardship on the victim’s family. If you’re in a position to help and feel like helping, this is the link to their crowdfunding campaign to pay for funeral costs.

– Jack Cameron

Fifteenth Tacoma Homicide of 2015 Tamara Fabre

On the final day of 2015, 49-year-old Tamara Fabre became the fifteenth homicide this year in Tacoma. Tamara has moved here from Texas back in April in order to help her mother. Her mother died of cancer in October.

Tamara lived in the 7000 block of Fawcett Avenue. Her brother lives across the street. The family was planning a large New Year’s Day meal. Tamara was preparing food for the gathering. She and her 81-year-old father got into an argument. At some point that argument turned physical. It ended when her father managed to grab a carving knife. Tamara was stabbed at least ten times. Her father then went to Tamara’s brother’s house and had him call the authorities.

As always, the comments section is moderated by me and reserved for those who knew Tamara and want to share memories for her.

– Jack Cameron

Fourteenth Tacoma Homicide of 2015: Preston Stafford

PrestonStafford

It was a little after 1:00am early Sunday morning when neighbors heard the gunshots. Police arrived around 1:15am near the corner of East T and East Morton Street. They found 30-year-old Preston Stafford shot in the abdomen. Preston was transported to a local hospital where he died five hours later.

It turns out Preston had been waiting for a ride. He had contacted a woman for a ride, but when the car arrived, her boyfriend was driving. Her boyfriend said something about Preston owing him $50 and shot him.

Preston becomes the fourteenth Tacoma homicide this year and the third homicide this year on Tacoma’s East Side. Contrary to initial reports, Preston was not homeless at the time of his murder. The following day Tacoma Police arrested the 40-year-old woman and the 38-year-old man in connection with his murder.

Preston was well liked and enjoyed joking around and supporting the Seahawks. In other words, he was a lot like many of us.

As always, the comments section is reserved for those who want to share memories or thoughts about Preston. The comment section is moderated and inappropriate comments will not be accepted.

It is my hope that this is the last homicide I have to write about this year.

– Jack Cameron

Thirteenth Tacoma Homicide of 2015: Jeffery Wayne Shaw

 

JeffWShaw

It was early Sunday morning just after 2am in the parking lot of a convenience store in the 3700 block of North Pearl Street. In the passenger seat of a car sat 33-year-old Jeffery Wayne Shaw. A 38-year-old man had arranged to meet him and buy some heroin. The 38-year-old man approached the car and showed a fake badge. Jeffery responded by telling the driver to drive and was shot. The driver took Jeffery to Tacoma General Hospital. Shortly after arriving at the hospital he died from his wounds. The 38-year-old was arrested hours later by the Tacoma Police Department.

Jeffery Wayne Shaw is the thirteenth Tacoma Homicide this year. He was not unknown to the police. A quick online search will show he has a lengthy criminal history. It might not show that he has an eleven year old son. Or that he was apprenticing to be an electrician. It won’t likely show the friends and family who are devastated by the loss of this man. It won’t show what it’s like to grow up without a father.

Too often murders like this go unreported or ignored. Some people see a drug deal gone bad and assume anyone involved deserves what they get, but a man is more than his worst deeds. We all are. The life of Jeffery Wayne Shaw is just as important as any we’ve lost this year. And there is no way to discount his life without saying on some level that we do not value all life. At TacomaStories every life is vital and worth being remembered.

As always the comments section is moderated by me. Every comment must be approved. It is reserved for those who knew Jeffery and want to share thoughts of memories of him. Disparaging, insulting, or threatening comments will not be tolerated. There are sadly plenty of other places for that sort of thing

– Jack Cameron

There is a GoFundMe account for those who want to donate to the victim’s family. https://www.gofundme.com/f9eqk7z6