Houston — FG LA, a division of Taiwan's Formosa Plastics Group, has indefinitely suspended construction on a $9.4 billion petrochemical complex in Louisiana until the global coronavirus pandemic subsides and/or a vaccine is widely available, a spokeswoman said Nov. 23.
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"The widespread impacts of a global pandemic, including the challenge it creates in evaluating construction costs and the restrictions it has placed on international travel, are being felt across all industries and businesses, including FG," said Janile Parks, director of community and government relations, said in an email. "As a result, FG has deferred major construction until the pandemic has subsided and/or an effective vaccine is widely available."
Work on multiple major petrochemical projects in the US was temporarily suspended or slowed in April and May, during the height of pandemic-related shutdowns that stymied construction activity. Startup dates were pushed back as much as a year for some projects, while others saw delays of a quarter or more.
But FG LA's deferral of a final investment decision on what the company has dubbed the "Sunshine Project" project marks the first indefinite delay of a major project because of pandemic fallout.
The announcement came after the US Army Corps of Engineers earlier in November suspended a key permit issued for the project in 2019, according to federal court filings. The Corps of Engineers informed the company of the permit suspension Nov. 10, pending a reevaluation.
On Nov. 20, FG LA said in a statement that the Corps told the company that some activity related to the project could resume despite the permit suspension, such as relocation of a local water line and highway improvements.
"FG will continue to comply with all notices and guidance from the Corps during the permit suspension and re-evaluation process," the company said.
The permit suspension emerged in a federal lawsuit filed against the Corps in January by the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups. The lawsuit alleges that the Corps issued a permit in September 2019 allowing dredge and fill activity without fully examining environmental fallout from wetland destruction and discharge of pollutants from the complex.
The Corps did not prepare an environmental impact statement and issued the permit based on an inadequate environmental assessment that "failed to take the legally required 'hard look' at the direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of the Corps' decision to authorize the construction of the plastics facility and failed to analyze a reasonable range of alternatives to that decision," the lawsuit said.
The case had been headed for summary judgment, where a judge issues a decision without a trial, when the Corps Nov. 4 asked for a stay until the agency could notify FG LA of its intent to suspend the permit pending re-evaluation of alternatives analysis under Clean Water Act provisions.
The Corps told the company that any work authorized by the permit had to cease pending results of the re-evaluation, which would include a decision "either to reinstate, modify or revoke" it, according to a Corps letter to the company dated Nov. 10 included in the Nov. 13 filing.
Major work suspended in March on coronavirus concerns
In March, FG LA suspended major construction activity at the complex because of coronavirus pandemic concerns, to reduce the number of workers on site.
By May, the company had resumed work on a rail line and re-opened the site's office, but more substantive work remained on hold pending the final investment decision expected in the second half of 2020.
The first of the Sunshine Project phase, originally targeted for a 2024 startup, includes a 1.2 million mt/year ethane-fed cracker, a 600,000 propane dehydrogenation plant, a 600,000 mt/year polypropylene unit, linear-low-density and high-density polyethylene plants with capacities of 400,000 mt/year each, and a 900,000 mt/year ethylene glycol unit.
The second phase, originally targeted for startup by 2029, includes a 1.2 million mt/year cracker, LLDPE and HDPE plants with capacities of 400,000 mt/year each, and a second 900,000 mt/year ethylene glycol unit.
Permitting documents showed the EG plants will make monoethylene glycol, diethylene glycol, and polyethylene glycol.