Tacoma Tideflats Could Become the Site for Yet Another Natural Gas Facility

By John Gillie, May 2, 2014, The News Tribune

Tacoma’s Tideflats may become the site of its third new natural gas facility if the community proves receptive to its construction.


A San Francisco consulting firm, BSR, reportedly has called local civic leaders to test their attitudes about locating a natural gas plant in the heart of Tacoma’s industrial area.


State Sen. Jeannie Darneille said BSR called her to poll her about her and the community’s feelings about a new natural gas plant.  The researchers told her that a “major oil and gas company” was considering siting a liquified natural gas plant and distribution facility on the Tideflats.


If that plant materializes, it will be the second such facility slated for construction on the Tideflats. Another LNG plant and distribution facility — a kind of LNG service station, if you will — is tentatively scheduled to be built near Totem Ocean Trailer Express’ terminal on the Blair Waterway.


TOTE plans to convert its two trailerships to burn LNG instead of diesel. That conversion would cut fuel costs for TOTE while greatly reducing emissions from the ships.  Those ships transport highway trailers full of goods between Tacoma and Anchorage.


In order to store a sufficient volume of natural gas to power the ships round trip between the two ports, the natural gas must be refrigerated to sub-zero temperatures until it turns to liquid for storage in tanks aboard the ships. The LNG facility at TOTE could also serve other LNG-powered ships, locomotives and highway trucks.


Another major natural gas user, a natural gas-to-methanol plant, is scheduled tentatively for construction on a Port of Tacoma-owned site that once housed the Kaiser Aluminum smelter.  That smelter closed 20 years ago, and was demolished by the Port of Tacoma which now owns the smelter site.


Port commissioners Thursday approved a lease with Northwest Innovation Works which intends to build a $1.8 billion methanol plant on the site. Some 1,000 workers would be employed in its construction, and 200 more would operate the plant.


Northwest Innovation Works, which has plans for two other methanol plants in the Northwest, said it is looking for still more sites for further plants. The methanol produced would be shipped to China to be made into plastics.


One source with knowledge of the major oil company’s plant proposal said that plant would be similar to the LNG distribution facility on the TOTE site.  No LNG would be exported. Instead, it would be distributed domestically.


The consulting firm didn’t mention a specific site for the plant in conversations with Darneille or others. Port of Tacoma spokeswoman Tara Mattina said no companies are talking with the port about further natural gas facilities.


One site suitable for such an LNG facility is land along the east side of the Blair Waterway owned by the Puyallup Tribe.  That waterfront land was once the site of a tribal casino, which has moved closer to Interstate 5.


That site is adjacent to the former Kaiser site now slated for the methanol plant.


The sudden interest in natural gas facilities is spurred by new discoveries of natural gas in the Dakotas and in Canada that have forced prices down and the available supply upward.  Gas from those locales would be brought to the Tideflats via an existing pipeline.

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