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World's Largest Methanol Refinery to Be Built Along the Columbia River

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By Brett VandenHeuvel

Communities on the frontlines of fossil fuel development are taking a stand against dangerous fossil fuel projects. Take a look at the big fight in the small town of Kalama, Washington. The Chinese government is planning to build the world's largest methanol refinery to convert fracked natural gas to liquid methanol for export to China to make plastics.

This four-minute video on the Kalama methanol refinery shows why these residents of this town are fighting and winning:

From a greenhouse gas perspective, this fight is a big deal. The methanol refinery alone would use more natural gas than all industry in Washington combined. Flip it around: If we win this one battle and stop the methanol refinery, we stop the equivalent of doubling industrial natural gas usage in Washington State.

While the gas industry tries to spin natural gas as clean, new science shows just the opposite. The bulk of natural gas is methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Methane leakage from gas wells and pipelines led scientists to conclude that fracked gas can be as bad coal for our climate. And it gets worse. Gas production in North America relies heavily on fracking, a process famous for polluting air and water, endangering the health of nearby residents.

On the Columbia River, we're no stranger to the fossil fuel industry's pipe dreams. Liquefied natural gas. Coal. Oil-by-rail. Our communities have celebrated major victories. The fossil fuel industry's love affair with the Columbia ignores our region's fierce passion for clean air, salmon and standing up for our neighbors. The coal and oil projects that remain—the nation's largest proposals for coal export and oil-by-rail terminals—face a high-profile movement led by cities, businesses, Tribes, faith leaders, conservationists and others to hold the line on short-sighted, high-impact fossil fuel proposals.

But the Kalama methanol refinery represents a new wave of fossil fuel export. This project would drive demand for massive new pipelines and lock the Pacific Northwest into a half century or more of fracked natural gas consumption, further delaying the transition to cleaner energy alternatives.

Northwest Innovation Works proposed a similar project in Tacoma, Washington, on Puget Sound. Community members and elected officials put the project under the microscope and rejected it. Just days before the company dropped their Tacoma methanol refinery idea (and doubled-down in Kalama) an elected public utilities commissioner told the company to "go away and don't come back" without specific answers to Tacoma's concerns.

Tacoma is a city of 200,000. Kalama is a town of 2,000. The passion to fight the methanol refinery is strong and inspiring in Kalama. But because of its small size, voices must rise from across the Pacific Northwest to stop this behemoth. You can help by signing our petition to Gov. Jay Inslee calling on him to oppose the methanol refinery.

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