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Study: Petrochemical Projects Could Transform Pacific Northwest Into Export Hub

Port of Tacoma
An aerial view of the site at the Port of Tacoma where the methanol plant would be built

Projects in the works for the Pacific Northwest could turn the region into a major hub for exporting petrochemicals and products derived from fossil fuels, according to a new study from the environmental think tank Sightline Institute. 

The proposed plant in Tacoma to convert natural gas into methanol has grabbed headlines lately, but Sightline said it’s just one of a number of fossil-fuel-based projects in the works for the region. Northwest Innovation Works, the Chinese-backed company behind the Tacoma plant, also wants to build two more: one in Kalama in southern Washington and another in Oregon along the Columbia River.

In Anacortes, Tesoro wants to build a facility to make a petrochemical called xylene to export to Asia. Xylene is used in making plastic bottles and polyester, according to Sightline. 

"The question that this region is facing is whether we’re going to continue this kind of clean energy legacy that we have, or whether we’re going to become Houston on the Pacific," said Eric de Place, policy director at Sightline.

There are also two liquefied natural gas export facilities planned in Oregon: one along Coos Bay and the otherin Warrenton, near the mouth of the Columbia River. 

De Place said the low price of natural gas due to fracking is a big reason why such projects have been proposed. Natural gas is much cheaper here than it is in China, which has to depend on imports.

De Place said petrochemicals represent the third wave of interest in the Pacific Northwest from the energy industry, after efforts to build export terminals for coal and crude oil.  

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.