Plans to build a colossal $3.5 billion plant in Jefferson County for turning natural gas into liquid fuels took a step forward Tuesday as GTL Americas LP of Little Rock announced a $500,000 to $1 million contract with engineering and environmental services firm Geotechnology LLC to perform soil and seismic testing at the project site near the Arkansas River.
“We were stalled for 18 months by COVID, but GTLA is pushing forward with our Jefferson County project,” GTLA President Leon Codron told Arkansas Business Tuesday morning. “Our timeline, subject to the pandemic, is to complete all engineering, financing and commercial agreements within the next 24 months. We have 120 engineers working on the project, and you can’t accommodate that by Skype.”
In a news release, Codron said project leaders, which include GTLA and Energy Security Partners of Little Rock, led by CEO Roger Williams.
“We are thrilled to have added experienced engineers to our staff who have been involved in similar facilities around the world join us on-site in Jefferson County,” Codron said, telling Arkansas Business that Geotechnology LLC will perform testing “to make sure we understand the ground where our foundations are going to be laid, so that we can design accordingly.”
Codron, who described Energy Security Partners as the parent company of GTLA, said Williams chairs the GTLA board, and identified the project’s biggest investors as the Hanwha Group of Seoul, South Korea, and the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System. He said the number of employees at the Jefferson County site is expected to double over the next year.
The 1,800-acre site is located about 15 miles north of Pine Bluff.
“We are pleased to have Geotechnology LLC working with us to ensure secure operations in locations where there will be large and heavy equipment,” Codron said in a news release announcing the contract.
GTLA is in the first phase of developing the project, which would be the largest economic development endeavor in state history, even bigger than the Big River Steel plant in Osceola.
When the long-promised project is complete, GTL Americas said in a news release, “the plant will convert abundant domestic natural gas into 1.7 million gallons of ultra-clean transportation fuels per day.”
The development is expected to bring 3,000 construction jobs to Jefferson County, where per capita income is $18,650 a year. The plant itself will support about 200 jobs, with expansion plans in the wings.
“For more than 35 years, we have proudly supported large-scale construction projects across the Midwest and Mid-South,” Geotechnology President Pat Donovan said in a statement. “This contract will allow us to further showcase our geotechnical and geophysical expertise for deep foundation testing.”
The GTL plant will use a century-old technology known as Fischer-Tropsch conversion to turn piped-in natural gas into ultra-clean diesel, jet fuel and naphtha. GTL Americas Pine Bluff, as the plant will be known, hopes to capitalize on a robust natural gas pipeline infrastructure and river barge transportation. It plans to distribute the clean fuels by truck, rail, and marine barge, according to company literature.
“This is a project that’s moving forward,” Codron said.