$1.3 billion plant planned in St. James Parish

South Louisiana Methanol announced plans Thursday to build a $1.3 billion methanol plant in St. James Parish.

Company officials, along with state and local leaders and economic development officials, discussed the previously reported project at a press conference at Oak Alley Plantation Thursday.

The state said the plant will create 63 direct jobs with an average salary of $66,500 a year, plus 374 indirect jobs, according to figures from the Louisiana economic development department. Construction of the facility should start by the end of the year, hiring is expected to start in early 2015 and commercial operations will begin by mid-2016.

The plant, billed as the largest methanol production plant in North America, will convert 163,000 million British thermal units of natural gas to 5,000 metric tons of methanol each day, according to a news release from the state. Methanol is used as a feedstock to produce plastics, textiles, paint and plywood.

South Louisiana Methanol is jointly owned by Zero Emissions Energy Plants Ltd. of Austin, Texas, and The Todd Corp., a private, family-owned New Zealand company.

ZEEP’s plans for a south Louisiana methanol plant first surfaced in January through a study released by LSU’s Center for Energy Studies that explored the impact of low natural gas prices on manufacturing in Louisiana. ZEEP was cited as one of many companies that are constructing or propose to build plants that will benefit the state’s economy over the next several years.

At the time, ZEEP said on its website it would build the plant at the Port of South Louisiana in LaPlace. Instead, the facility will be built on the West Bank of the Mississippi River in St. James Parish, across the river from the Nucor Corp. steel plant currently under construction.

Officials said the St. James plant will take advantage of the price difference between low-cost natural gas in the United States and premium global liquids.

“Louisiana offers a high-quality energy workforce, access to abundant natural gas, and a strong network of pipelines and transportation facilities, which makes it an ideal partner for the production and distribution of methanol,” Barry Williamson, chief executive officer of South Louisiana Methanol, said in a written statement. “We will utilize proven technology to build the largest methanol plant in North America, which will consume CO2 for a more efficient process, ensuring strong environmental stewardship.”

ZEEP said its management team has significant experience implementing major energy projects and served as executives with organizations such as TransCanada, Cheniere, Credit Suisse and BNP Paribas.

Ronald E. Oligney, one of the founders, has 20 years of experience in the energy and environmental industry and served as an adviser to Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.

Williamson, another founder named on the website, is a former member of the Texas Railroad Commission and served as director of the U.S. Mineral Management Service under Bush.

Todd Corp. will provide major investment backing for the SLM plant, and intends to build multiple gas-to-liquids plants in the Gulf Coast Region, the state said.

LED started working with ZEEP on the methanol plant in February 2012. South Louisiana Methanol will use a $5 million Louisiana Economic Development performance-based grant for infrastructure costs and tap LED FastStart, the state’s work force development program.

Gov. Bobby Jindal and St. James Parish President Timmy Roussel said the plant will boost the south Louisiana economy.

“With ZEEP’s focus on the development of premium fuels products utilizing abundant natural gas, the entire River Region will enjoy the benefits of this company’s choice to build here in St. James Parish,” Roussel said in a statement.

This is the second new methanol plant announced in south Louisiana in the past several months. In June Methanex Corp. formally announced plans to move an idle methanol facility from Chile to Geismar. The $550 million project should be completed by the end of 2014. Methanex has said it wants to move a second methanol plant to Geismar.