A methanol facility proposed for south of Grande Prairie could bring 1,000 construction jobs over three years. Nauticol Energy wants to build a $2 billion plant on land owned by International Paper, with the hopes of starting construction this time next year.

Nauticol Energy President and CEO Mark Tonner presents plans for a methanol facility south of Grande Prairie, Erica Fisher

Nauticol President and CEO Mark Tonner says the Calgary-based company looked at several potential sites across Alberta. However, he maintains the Grande Prairie area is the most welcoming and entrepreneurial community he’s worked with.

“You’ve got people who are used to working in oil and gas and industrial; there’s a college here; there’s a new hospital that should be opening here; you’ve got rail; we’ve got water infrastructure. All the key elements that we need to have a successful project are here, so it’s almost why not Grande Prairie?”

Methanol is used to make several products, ranging from windshield washer fluid and glue to alternative fuels, and has a quickly growing market in Asia. The clear liquid is produced using natural gas, in a process said to be odourless.

The local production facility would be located on an area of the pulp mill currently being used for waste. It would be constructed using modules built by PCL Construction in Edmonton and make use some of International Paper and CN Rail’s infrastructure. Tonner says that means the facility would have half of the ecological footprint of a traditional one of its size.

“You’re not going into virgin forest, so you’re taking land that’s already been used in an industrial setting. First and foremost, that’s a big win.”

The project is expected to create 200 permanent jobs once up and running, and Tonner says that could lead to anywhere from 600 to 1,000 jobs upstream. County of Grande Prairie Reeve Leanne Beaupre argues it would have a major economic impact on the region, while not further spreading out industrial development.

“It’s going to actually put the County of Grande Prairie as well as the Peace region, City of Grande Prairie on the global scale. I think that’s really important because people don’t understand what’s going on here and I think that’s a huge issue.”

Train traffic entering and exiting the site will not travel through the City of Grande Prairie, Nauticol Energy

The project still needs regulatory permits, and submissions were made to Alberta Environment and Parks last week. If approved, the plan is to build in three stages, with the production of one million metric tonnes of methanol a year expected to start in 2021 and another two million added a year later.

The product would then be shipped by rail to locations within North America, as well as to Asia. It’s likely Prince Rupert, British Columbia will be the port used to get it on the water. The lifespan of the production facility is pegged at 40 years or more.

“There is a tremendous appetite for infrastructure assets like this globally, so I have 100 per cent confidence in the ability to fund the project and build the project provided we do our job and we put the pieces together properly,” maintains Tonner.

In its announcement Tuesday, Nauticol said it had recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Western Cree Tribal Council. It means Duncan’s First Nation, Horse Lake First Nation and Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation would be equity partners in the project, with future job opportunities for youth and members to be announced.

If approved, the plant would be the second methanol facility in Alberta. The other is in the Medicine Hat area.