Remember that $3.5 billion plan to turn natural gas into ultra-pure engine fuel at a massive plant north of Pine Bluff?
When we last checked in, Energy Security Partners of Little Rock had secured a $30 million investment from the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System to complete front-end engineering for a site on 100 acres along the Arkansas River in northern Jefferson County, said CEO Roger Williams.
His big-name partners in ESP include former U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater and Gen. Wesley K. Clark, the former NATO commander, presidential candidate and Little Rock Hall High School valedictorian.
Slater told Arkansas Business a year ago that the plant, which would use chemical processes to turn piped-in natural gas into 33,000 barrels a day of liquid fuel, could be up and running by 2023, and that a key financial decision date was nearing.
“People are going to start seeing things happening quickly,” Slater said then, noting that the project would bring 2,500 construction jobs to the depressed Delta, and offer 200 permanent plant jobs “at excellent wages.”
Whispers reached out for an update to both ESP representatives and the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County. ESP had no immediate response, but in one of her last acts before retiring as Alliance president and CEO, Lou Ann Nisbett told Whispers a major announcement on the gas-to-liquid project is planned after the first of the year. “You should check back then,” she said.
(Nisbett’s successor at the Alliance, Allison J.H. Thompson, is featured in this week’s Executive Q&A. She told Whispers on Thursday that she had nothing new to report on the plant.)
The GTL project, touted as the biggest economic endeavor ever in Arkansas, has naturally had its skeptics. But the vision has attracted interest: European and Asian governments are set to invest, according to George Hopkins, who retired as chief of the teacher retirement fund in December. ATRS has also held back an additional $10 million for potential investment in the plant.