A long-promised big announcement for a colossal $3.5 billion facility to turn natural gas into liquid fuel in Jefferson County is now at hand after nearly a decade of planning.
In October 2022, GTL Americas President Leon Codron said the project was “making steady technical and commercial progress” and would soon have an engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning contractor engaged “to deliver this game-changing project for our state’s economy and energy security.”
Now supporters will gather at a cocktail reception Wednesday “to celebrate an exciting project update and an official signing ceremony with Hyundai Engineering America Inc. and S&B Engineering and Construction Ltd.,” according to an invitation obtained by Arkansas Business.
The companies have been chosen for front-end engineering and design work and for the engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning contracts, the invitation said. The 5 p.m reception will be at the Little Rock Marriott, RSVP only.
You may recall that the project ranks among the biggest economic development projects in Arkansas history: a massive plant on 1,100 acres along the Arkansas River north of the Pine Bluff Arsenal that will transform natural gas into highly refined diesel and jet fuel.
GTL Americas is a subsidiary of Energy Security Partners of Little Rock, which has faced considerable skepticism about the project, described as potentially transformational for an economically depressed region of the state.
The Economic Development Corp. of Jefferson County bought the land and leased it to ESP for a nominal sum in 2016, and in September 2021, GTL Americas hired an environmental services firm, Geotechnology LLC, to do soil and seismic testing at the site. When the project is complete, GTL Americas said in a news release at the time, “the plant will convert abundant domestic natural gas into 1.7 million gallons of ultra-clean transportation fuels per day.”
The contracts being signed this week should clarify a timeline for construction, which is expected to bring 3,000 jobs to Jefferson County, where per capita income is about $20,000 a year. The plant itself will support 200 jobs, and expansion plans are already in development.
The GTL plant, whose financial prospects get better as oil prices rise, will use a century-old technology known as Fischer-Tropsch conversion to turn piped-in natural gas into liquid fuels. 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.
With oil-producing nations cutting production voluntarily, oil prices are expected to average $93 a barrel in the fourth quarter of this year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Energy Security Partners CEO Roger Williams told Arkansas Business in 2016 that the GTL plant could be profitable even with oil prices at $30 a barrel.