Vancouver, British Columbia-based methanol producer Methanex has fast-tracked the relocation of a major chemical plant across continents to capitalize on natural gas prices from Louisiana's shale plays. It's a massive undertaking involving thousands of skilled workers and a seven-month sea voyage—but it's still cheaper than building a new plant.

Nearly 1,000 workers are on site each day at the Geismar, La., site, with a wide selection of contractors and subs. Jacobs Engineering, Pasadena, Calif., is the engineering and procurement contractor (EPC); Cajun Industries Inc., Baton Rouge, has handled site prep and concrete work; and the Netherlands' Mammoet was charged with lifting and hauling the process modules from the original plant site near Puntas Arenas, Chile, to Louisiana.

All this has been coordinated with Methanex's in-house project team, which provides overall direction on the project.

"Members of the project team ensure the application of best practices and lessons learned from previous projects," says Gustavo Parra, Methanex vice president of manufacturing excellence and projects. "Additionally, Methanex is responsible for the overall commissioning and start-up and performance tests of the plant."

Making the Move

Methanol is a versatile chemical used in many manufacturing processes, including renewable fuels products, paint, sealants and plastics. The versatility of the material is generating a global surge in demand. Methanex, whose stock price has doubled in a year, plans to relocate a second plant to Geismar as well. It's a $1.1-billion effort that will generate 2,500 construction jobs at its peak. The first plant will be operational in 2014, the second in 2016, according to Methanex.

To move the parts from Chile, Methanex contracted a special ship called a Dockwise Vanguard, which can sink itself to water level to receive and unload industrial equipment. Jacobs managed the disassembly and Chilean subcontractors did the work. Foreign contractors were used for some critical tasks such as marking and tagging, heavy lifts and heavy hauls.

"These ships have to be scheduled months, sometimes years in advance, so there was only a short window to unload the modules and get them to the site," says Dale LaBlanc, Methanex site manager for Cajun Industries Inc. "We made sure it all had somewhere to go."

Shipments were made with dedicated semi-submersible ships and geared heavy-haul ships. The ships were booked early to ensure their availability in the required time frame, Parra says.

"Indeed, the [time] windows were extremely short. It's not like you can put some of these modules in a traditional cargo box. They're more like oceangoing barges," a site engineer who asked not to be named told ENR. "This is undiscovered country, cutting up a plant and moving it across the ocean to a different country."