South Africa’s Sasol Ltd. last week put in all the chips on a bet that U.S. natural gas is here to stay, announcing plans to construct a $16-21 billion natural gas-to-liquids (GTL) plant in Westlake, LA — the second largest commercial plant of its kind in the world.

The U.S. plant would produce up to 96,000 b/d, making it the second largest after Royal Dutch Shell plc’s Pearl plant in Qatar (see NGI, March 28, 2011). The Sasol plant would be in southwestern Louisiana, which is in the heart of the gassy Haynesville Shale, and near the Barnett and Eagle Ford plays.

“By incorporating GTL technology in the USA’s energy mix, states such as Louisiana will be able to advance the country’s energy independence through a diversification of supply,” said Sasol CEO David Constable.

The Westlake facility would include a gas processing plant, a chemical plant and a refinery to convert natural gas into diesel, jet fuel and other chemical products.

“This project will be the largest single manufacturing investment in the history of Louisiana and it also represents one of the largest foreign direct investment manufacturing projects in the history of the entire United States,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said. “Despite a national economic downturn, this historic economic development win is happening in Louisiana because we have been laser focused on job creation by creating an environment where businesses want to invest and create jobs for our people.”

An estimated 1,200 permanent jobs and 7,000 construction jobs are forecast to be created by the project, with construction start-up to begin in 2014. Production is slated to begin in 2018. Louisiana offered Sasol more than $2 billion in tax credits and other incentives.

Sasol, a global pioneer in GTL technology, first leaked plans for a possible Louisiana project last year (see NGI, Dec. 5, 2011). It also had been assessing a plan to build a GTL facility in Canada (see NGI, July 2). The operator already has small GTL facilities in South Africa and Qatar. However, the Canadian plans have been shelved to prioritize the Louisiana facility.

Sasol’s announcement is the first — and the largest — to become “official,” but the company isn’t the only one that has been reviewing projects to take advantage of unconventional gas supplies along the Gulf Coast.

Last year Dow Chemical Co. launched plans to increase ethylene and propylene production, as well as integrate U.S. operations, into feedstock “opportunities” available from the increasing gas supplies (see related story). Westlake Chemical Corp. also has said it wants to expand ethane crackers in Louisiana. And last spring Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. LP selected Old Ocean, TX, as the site for two polyethylene facilities (see NGI, May 7).

Shell also has hinted of building a GTL plant in North America and has cited Western Canada as a possible site (see NGI, Jan. 16). Shell CFO Simon Henry said early this year the company was scouting locations but at a cost of “$5 billion to $10 billion a project, we have to be selective” (see NGI, Feb. 6).

According to an economic impact study commissioned by Louisiana Economic Development and Louisiana State University, the Sasol project will produce a total economic impact over the next 20 years of $46.2 billion. Sasol in early 2011 selected a 650-acre site near one of its existing facilities in Westlake as a suitable location for the GTL project. Since September 2011, a feasibility study was undertaken by state officials.

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