ANCHORAGE An experimental BP plant in Nikiski designed to turn natural gas into a liquid is finally up and running.
The $86 million gas-to-liquids, or GTL, plant will test secret technology that could eventually help bring massive global stores of so-called stranded gas, such as that on the North Slope, to market.
The estimated 35 trillion cubic feet of North Slope gas is stranded for lack of a long and expensive pipeline to carry it out.
At least some of the world's stranded gas could be carried in existing oil pipelines, provided the gas could be economically converted to a stable liquid.
The Nikiski plant began production on July 27 and is turning Cook Inlet natural gas into about 100 barrels a day of clear liquid called synthetic crude oil, also known as syncrude or white crude.
The plant eventually will ramp up to about 250 barrels per day, said Dave MacDowell, spokesman for BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc.
MacDowell said the plant is not a precursor to moving large, commercial quantities of North Slope gas down the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. Rather, London-based BP and its partner, Davy Process Technology, hope to prove technology for use anywhere in the world.
For North Slope gas, BP's focus remains on building a conventional gas pipeline down the Alaska Highway through Canada to the Lower 48, MacDowell said.
The Nikiski plant will operate only long enough to prove the technology, perhaps 18 months, and then will be dismantled, he told the Anchorage Daily News. The plant employs up to 20 people.
The syncrude is a clean petroleum product with far fewer pollutants, such as sulfur and nitrogen, than normal crude oil. It is particularly well-suited for refining into diesel.
Output from the Nikiski plant is being trucked to the nearby Tesoro refinery for processing.
GTL know-how has been around since the 1920s, but so far no one has been able to make the process work cheaply enough to justify commercial plants on a far larger scale than the Nikiski plant.
BP is among several major oil companies, including Conoco Phillips, Exxon Mobil and Shell, that have studied GTL technology.
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