Vancouver-based methanol producer Methanex has fast-tracked the relocation of a major chemical plant to the U.S. Gulf Coast from South America to capitalize on natural-gas prices from U.S. shale plays. It is a massive undertaking that involves hundreds of skilled workers and a seven-month voyage, but it's still cheaper than building a new plant.

To move the parts from Santiago, Chile, Methanex contracted a special vessel, the Dockwise Vanguard, which can sink itself to water level to receive and unload large industrial equipment. "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, site manager for Cajun Industries Inc., Baton Rouge. "We made sure it all had somewhere to go."

Methanex disassembled the plant in Santiago months before Cajun got on-site in Geismar, La. "We had to mobilize to start the sitework very quickly … no dates could be missed," LaBlanc says. "If adjustments had to be made, they were done on-site."

Working from a Louisiana cow pasture, the contractor stabilized sand and clay and laid underground pipe and foundations. "We've had about 300 people out at the site ourselves—carpenters, machine operators, concrete finishers. It's a major project," LaBlanc says.

Methanol is a chemical used in many manufacturing processes, including renewable-fuel products, paint, sealants and plastics. The versatility of the substance 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. The $1.1-billion effort will generate 2,500 construction jobs at its peak. The first plant will be operational in 2014, the second in 2016, Methanex says.

Jacobs Engineering, Pasadena, Calif., is the EPC contractor.