Sasol plant up and running

Second plant on target to start later this year

The first of Sasol’s seven chemical product manufacturing plants recently began operations at its Westlake site, with a second plant set to start up later this year, officials said Thursday.

Michael Kane, vice president of operations at the site, said the first unit will produce 470,000 tons of low-density polyethylene per year, with the second plant producing 420,000 tons of polyethylene annually.

“Both are world-scale plants,” Kane said. “This is really an exciting day for us. We’ve been looking forward to it for a very long time.”

The Sasol site centers around an ethane cracker, which is expected to be up and running by July, Kane said. Until then, Sasol is purchasing ethylene from a Gulf Coast network that includes other suppliers, he said.

The remaining chemical project manufacturing units are expected to begin operations throughout this year and into early 2020, Kane said. Starting up operations at the first plant is “just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

“This represents a success story for us to get to this point,” Kane said. “It represents a culmination of partnering with the state and (Calcasieu) Parish in a way that brought this part of an economic engine to life.”

Sasol has hired 650 of the 1,100 employees working at the site, with the other 450 working there before the expansion, Kane said. More than 80 percent of those newer hires are from Louisiana, while 71 percent are from Calcasieu Parish.

Because the remaining manufacturing plants will start up in sequence, the roughly 6,000 construction workers and craftsmen will continue to work at the site, he said.

“We see ourselves as a very viable entity,” Kane said. “This is bigger than one plant.”

Kane said Sasol has invested $40 million worth of infrastructure in Southwest Louisiana, with $35 million focused on Westlake. Another $5 million was invested in nonprofits throughout the region. Starting this year, the site is expected to generate $6.2 million in local taxes and $7.5 million in state taxes annually. “It’s a very visible part of an underlying philosophy that we invest in our community,” he said. “And this is the payoff.”””

In this file photo, officials closed roads Wednesday, January 6, 2018 to allow Sasol to transport a 50-foot-tall section of an ethane cracker.