GONZALES — Shell kicked off what company officials say will be an intensive effort to solicit public feedback on plans under consideration for a massive natural gas complex in Ascension Parish.
In the first of three open houses this week, more than 25 Shell employees in khakis and light blue shirts with the yellow-and-red Shell logo chatted up more than 200 public officials, job seekers and the just plain curious Tuesday in one of the warehouse-like buildings at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center.
One video screen displayed the 2,400-acre proposed site wedged between the Mississippi River and La. 70 near the St. James Parish line.
Another screen gave an aerial view of what the massive complex could look like.
If constructed, the plant would cover half of the site now mostly used to grow sugar cane.
The gas-to-liquids facility, which could produce 140,000 barrels per day, banks on tapping bountiful and cheap new supplies of North American natural gas and converting the gas into transportation fuels, like diesel, and other products.
New details were in short supply Tuesday from officials with Gulf Coast GTL, the Shell affiliate behind the multi-billion-dollar project that could bring 740 permanent new jobs to Louisiana and 10,000 construction jobs if built.
Banners at the open house saying “Open about Safety,” “Open about the Environment,” “Open to Listen” and similar things underscored the broader point of Tuesday’s meeting and those planned for Wednesday and Thursday evening.
“We want the full spectrum of input from the constituencies here in the area,” said Mike Cathey, Gulf Coast GTL project leader.
Announced last month with Gov. Bobby Jindal, a lot of specifics remain unanswered.
A statement at the time said the project’s capital investment would exceed $12.5 billion but no precise figure was available.
A similar plant that Shell built a few years ago in Qatar cost about $20 billion.
Asked such details, Cathey and other officials said they were not ready to give answers.
Permitting, engineering, commercial considerations, long-term estimates on natural gas prices and the public input phase itself would all play a part in Shell’s ultimate decision about whether to build and determining those other specifics.
“It takes a while to develop these (projects) and a lot needs to be done and so what we have done now is we have made a decision,” Cathey said.
“If we are going to build a project in the U.S., it will be here in Ascension Parish, but there’s a lot that still needs to be done.”
One fact emerged. The plant site would be on property owned by Motiva Enterprises, of Houston.
The company is a refining, distribution and marketing joint venture formed in 1998 between Royal Dutch Shell and Saudi Aramco Company, Saudi Arabia’s national oil company.
Motiva’s 235,000-barrel-per-day Convent oil refinery is on part of a 3,900–acre site straddling Ascension and St. James parishes along River Road and near the Sunshine Bridge.
The proposed Shell gas-to-liquids plant would be built on a 2,400-acre portion of the site in Ascension, parish land records show, and would be the Motiva refinery’s neighbor.
Cathey said Gulf Coast GTL has “secured the rights to use the land there” but offered no other details.
As part of the public input process, Shell has hired Loyola University of New Orleans mass communications professor Bob Thomas to be a third-party who identifies community concerns and will hold a series of “community conversations” on specific issues. Thomas is also director of the university’s Center for Environmental Communications.
“If somebody’s nervous about it, wants to know about it, is concerned about it, we want to hear about it because that’s going to help us address the issues that the community wants addressed,” Thomas said.
He said one of the initial concerns is traffic, but Shell is also committed to answering the social justice concerns that could arise with the kind of large facility Shell is proposing.
The company also opened an office in Gonzales last week.
Shell is planning to widen parts of two-lane La. 70 and La. 22 to four lanes.
Tracy Browning, executive director of the Ascension Parish Tourism Commission, wanted to find out more about a facility that would be right down the road from her office at the intersection of La. 22 and La. 70.
“I’m here just to find out exactly where they’re located, where they’re thinking about locating, and kind of the preliminary plans of exactly what’s going to take place,” she said.
Heath Guitrau, 37, of Prairieville, a project development manager for a construction company, said he showed up to find out what kind of job opportunities are available.
“It’s huge. It’s a big plant,” he said. “I think it’s a good thing too.”
Two more open houses are planned 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday at Rose’s Catering, 10141 Frontage St., St. James and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at The Venue, 43503 Quality Lane, Gonzales.