Last Modified: Tuesday, December 04, 2012 6:14 PM
Monday’s announcement of Sasol’s decision to proceed with development of potentially a $21 billion plant to convert natural gas to liquid fuels ranks as one of the biggest economic bonanzas in Southwest Louisiana history.
In fact, the Sasol facility is arguably the most significant economic venture since local businessmen decided to sale bonds to fund the dredging of the Calcasieu Ship Channel in the 1920s.
The GTL facility represents the largest single manufacturing investment in the history of Louisiana and it promises to become another crown jewel in the massive petro-chemical complex on the west side of the Calcasieu River.
The seeds of the complex’s growth can be traced back to World War II when the War Department’s demands for gasoline led to the construction of two refineries — Cities Service, now Citgo, and Continental, now Phillips 66. Those two plants, along with the construction of the PPG facility, formed the three pillars on which the rest of the complex rests.
Now enters Sasol with its planned chemical plant and ethane cracker that will convert natural gas into 96,000 barrels a day of diesel and jet fuel and other chemicals. The GTL plant will be the first of its kind in North America and the second largest plant of its kind in the world.
Construction could begin next year and create as many as 7,000 construction jobs with the first unit coming on line in 2018 and the second unit operational the next year. The facility will boast 1,200 permanent jobs and lead to nearly 6,000 indirect jobs.
‘‘Once this project is fully up and running,’’ said Gov. Bobby Jindal, ‘‘Sasol will become the largest economic driver company in all of Southwest Louisiana, as well as one of the top 10 economic driver companies in our entire state.’’
Success has many fathers, and landing Sasol for Southwest Louisiana is no different.
The recent discoveries of abundant natural gas fields — the key component in Sasol’s process — in Louisiana, Texas and beyond made the United States fertile ground for the South African company. Southwest Louisiana’s infrastructure — the Port of Lake Charles, a massive array of existing pipelines and rail — helped lure Sasol here along with a competent, reliable workforce. The state of Louisiana also pitched in with a reported $2 billion worth of tax credits and other incentives.
The Chamber/Southwest Louisiana’s rapid response to initial inquiries regarding potential plant sites and their infrastructure assets also reportedly impressed Sasol officials.
Clearly, Jindal and Louisiana Secretary of Economic Development Stephen Moret, along with local officials, deserve plaudits for landing such a prize trophy.
And as big an investment and economic behemoth the Sasol facility represents — estimated by LSU’s Division of Economic Development of having a more than $46 billion impact on Southwest Louisiana over the next 20 years — it also offers unlimited potential to lure other petro-chemical investments to the area. Just like the World War II-engineered refineries, Sasol’s GTL plant may very well spawn other plants which thirst for its by-products to help create their own products.
Whether that comes to pass likely depends on a multitude of factors, but this we know: Sasol’s new facility will positively impact Southwest Louisiana for decades to come.
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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.