Environmental groups and Chinese-backed sponsors of a natural gas-fueled methanol production and export project in Washington are knocking heads after a district court late last month voided some federal permits for the project. 

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington referred the permits back to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the seven-year, $2 billion NW Innovation Works (NWIW) project proposed for Port Kalama, WA. Columbia Riverkeeper, Sierra Club and Washington Environmental Council among others had challenged the permits.

District Judge Robert Bryan ordered the Army Corps to conduct a full environmental impact statement as required by federal law and assess whether the project was in the public interest. However, the court rejected arguments that further review was needed under the Endangered Species Act.

The project had attained some breathing room after the Washington Ecology Department issued a draft second supplemental environmental impact statement. Separately, the project also secured more financial backing from global shipper Hafnia Ltd., which agreed to ship one-third of the projected 3.6 million metric tons/year, or 30 Bcf/year of natural gas, in production for use in Asian markets.

Before the adverse court ruling, a coalition of about 25 national and international unions urged state officials to approve plans for the gas-to-methanol refinery. The group sent a letter from the North American Building Trades Unions to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee calling the project a “blue/green” undertaking that would provide family wage union jobs and help fight climate change.

NWIW was created by China’s Clean Energy Commercialization Co., which partnered with units of Double Green Bridge and the Chinese Academy of Science Holding Co. and private investors in H&Q Asia Pacific. NWIW is owned by China’s Shanghai Bi Ke Clean Technology Co. Ltd.