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Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley cuts the ribbon at the Opening of NiQuan's Gas to Liquids Plant yesterday.

The contentious, costly and long-delayed Gas-to-Liquids plant is finally off the ground.

The plant, which began in 2007 was formally opened by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday.

Originally called the World GTL project, after years of financial constraints, legal challenges and cost overruns, NiQuan Energy obtained the plant back in 2018.

The Prime Minister noted the plant’s contentious history during his opening remarks.

“When we say here today that this Gas-to-Liquids plant is a success, people may ask what is successful about a plant that started construction in 2007 and has only just now been completed in 2021? What is there to commemorate about a project that was once plagued by delays and cost overruns?” Rowley asked.

Rowley said that the project was initially written off as a failed attempt “there was nothing to be had except permanent financial losses, finger-pointing and political grand standing”.

He said that in 2018 when NiQuan acquired the plant, Petrotrin received a cash payment of US$10 million, with the remaining US$25 million to be paid in Preference Shares. To complete the plant, a further capital injection of approximately US$125 million was required.

“Additionally, the Government is expected to receive TT$2 billion in taxes and statutory payments over the life of the project. NiQuan’s investment represents the first major private investment in the downstream energy sector in recent times, despite difficulties in the global markets,” he said.

NiQuan, he said, led the plant out of the “junkyard”, perhaps referencing back to 2012 when then Pertrotrin chairman Lindsay Gillette said the already billion-dollar plant should be sold as scrap iron to help recoup some of the massive losses.

“I have said before that the internal management of the project by Petrotrin and WGTL was an undeniable failure, and this remains true. However, fortunately for this gas-to-liquids plant, the Petrotrin and WGTL failure was not the end of the road. The Government set out to make the best of a situation over which we had little control in the past,” he said.

Rowley said he recognised the NiQuan project as an opportunity for the country to gain some benefit from an investment “which otherwise could not have been operationalized”

“The Government facilitated this project by sourcing and securing a supply of gas to the plant, to a maximum of 31 mmscf per day, through the Trinidad and Tobago Upstream Downstream Energy Operations Company Limited,” he said.

Some local conglomerates, he said,, also partnered with NiQuan to help this project along. Rowley names “highly experienced experts, such as BD Energy Systems, Black and Veatch Management Consulting, Halder Topsoe and Emerging Fuels Technology”.

Rowley said that Junior Sammy Contractors Ltd was also involved and those partnerships were key in de-risking the project and would have contributed to NiQuan receiving its third consecutive A+ rating from CariCRIS.

The Prime Minister said that similar to what the Government is now trying to do with the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery, the State stood back and allowed a private entity to take over a State asset.

Though the Government had initially selected the Oilfields Workers Trade Union owned Patriotic Energies Technologies Company Ltd to purchase the refinery, despite months of meetings, the deal fell through.

The Government is now shopping around for buyers of the shuttered refinery.

“While we will continue to provide support and make interventions where necessary, in forms that we, as the Government, deem appropriate, we must also know when to adopt a hands-off approach to allow private investors the opportunity to flourish, especially where the state has tried and failed,” he said.

Rowley cited the gas-to-liquids plant as a “prime example of the successful development of the country’s export potential of higher value-added products, through the collaboration of the private sector, the banking sector and the Government”.

“This is the manner of collaboration that is necessary to stimulate activity within our economy, and to aid in the country’s post-pandemic recovery,” he said.