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Twin Methanol Export Facilities Eyed for Washington's Columbia River Region

Plans for twin natural gas-fueled methanol plants to be sited in Washington's lower Columbia River region were unveiled this week. They could, pending approvals, be exporting production to China by 2018.

Each facility is slated to cost $1 billion. One would be sited at Port Westward in Clatskanie and the other at the Port of Kalama in Kalama.

Northwest Innovation Works, which unveiled the proposals, is a venture created by China-based Clean Energy Commercialization Co., in turn a partnership of BP and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which among other things helped start up computer giant Lenovo. Private equity investors include H&Q Asia Pacific, which introduced Starbucks to China.

Natural gas for the facilities would be supplied by Williams pipelines.

The project backers emphasized how low-cost U.S. gas, processed with inexpensive Northwest power, could convert methanol at a low enough price to make a profit, even by selling output to a petrochemical complex in Dalian, China. Low gas prices and a lot of gas supply led LyondellBassell late last year to restart a methanol plant in Channelview, TX (see Daily GPI, Jan. 3). The restart is among dozens announced or begun to upgrade or expand capacity to take advantage of low-cost gas and natural gas liquids (see Daily GPI, Dec. 30, 2013).

The Washington facilities would export methanol twice a week, the backers said.

The Kalama facility "would be the largest capital investment in Cowlitz County in over 20 years," said Cowlitz Economic Development Council President Ted Sprague. The Port Westward facility, 50 miles northwest of Portland, OR, also would be a record-breaker investment-wise for that area.

As proposed, each 80-acre facility initially could produce up to 5,000 metric tons/d of methanol, enough to store for up to three weeks.

About 1,000 construction workers would be needed at each site, according to project spokesman Greg Peden. The plants also each would add an estimated 300-350 indirect jobs across the region. Once up and running, each facility may employ about 120 people.

After the first phases of construction are completed, there's a possibility that each plant could receive an additional $800 million for capacity upgrades, Peden said.

Northwest Natural Gas Co. wants to move gas through an existing pipeline to supply the Port Westward plant. A three-mile pipe also could extend from the Port of Kalama to tap into another pipe, according to Williams. However, area residents have opposed similar pipeline extensions on worries about the potential for landslides that in turn could rupture pipelines.

Port of Kalama commissioners heard from representatives Wednesday regarding an agreement allowing access to a site. Thursday night, representatives were to make a presentation in Clatskanie on the Port Westward plant before the Port of St. Helens commissioners.

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