Bill advances to fund fuel plant in state

Project would convert natural gas into diesel, other energy

A gas-lit flame burns on a natural gas stove in this Jan. 11, 2006, file photo. (AP/Thomas Kienzle)
A gas-lit flame burns on a natural gas stove in this Jan. 11, 2006, file photo. (AP/Thomas Kienzle)

The Joint Budget Committee last week endorsed a bill that would grant $15 million in spending authority to the state Department of Transportation in fiscal 2022 for a road project linked to a proposed plant that would convert natural gas into liquid north of Pine Bluff.

Senate Bill 448 is proposed by Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton.

A committee co-chairman, Rep. Lane Jean, R-Magnolia, asked Hammer whether SB 448 is "to get the road and the project to Pine Bluff?"

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Hammer replied, "It is strictly a place holder in the event the money should become available."

The Arkansas Teacher Retirement System "has money invested in this project or set aside for it," Hammer said.

In 2018, the system's trustees authorized investing up to $30 million in a company that proposes to build the plant north of Pine Bluff to convert natural gas into liquid.

So far, system director Clint Rhoden said, the system has invested $20 million in the partnership that owns GTL Americas LP. The project is in the design phase.

According to an Aug. 23, 2018, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article, the natural gas to liquids -- or GTL -- plant will convert natural gas to refined fuels such as diesel. That process is expected to account for 70% of the plant's output. Other products include naphtha, which is used for chemical and plastic manufacturing; and electricity, which is generated from steam created when equipment housing the chemical reactions is cooled.

The GTL Americas' road proposal would be to strengthen and widen Stagecoach and Chandler roads near Exit 24 on Interstate 530, Rhoden said after the committee's meeting.

"The proposal also includes extending Chandler Road to provide access to the job site," he said.

Hammer told lawmakers that "the firm that is behind the project has been working with the highway department regarding best practices for getting off of the Pine Bluff highway over to the job site and they are in the middle of developing that."

Randy Ort, deputy director and chief operating officer for the Department of Transportation, said the department has committed $5 million for state highway modifications that would support access to the proposed plant.

"Several alternatives for access are being investigated by the developer and local agencies," he said in a written statement. "Depending on the alternative selected, partnering arrangements are being discussed to finance the additional cost that may be required."

The bill next will be considered by the Senate.

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