BISMARCK — A Canadian energy company announced Thursday, Oct. 14, plans for the development of a $2.8 billion natural gas plant in western North Dakota with the support of a multimillion dollar investment from the state.

The development by the Alberta-based Cerilon Inc. would be the first of its kind in North Dakota, and state officials announced Thursday a $3 million initial investment through the Department of Commerce, with more state funding for the project likely down the line.

“Our paramount goal is to deliver sustainable, long-term value to our stakeholders, community, and the environment,” said Cerilon Chairman Nico Duursema in a joint statement with North Dakota leaders. Duursema predicted that his company's plant, planned for Trenton in Williams County, will be “the lowest carbon footprint facility of its kind in the world.”

Gov. Doug Burgum welcomed the development and touted the project as a step forward for his ambitious goal, announced earlier this year, to make North Dakota carbon neutral by 2030.

Gas-to-liquids, or GTL, is a refining process used to convert natural gas into fuel products like gasoline and diesel.

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North Dakota has long struggled to find uses for the large amounts of natural gas byproduct from its oil fields. The state lacks the infrastructure of some other oil and gas producing states to capture, utilize and export all of its natural gas output, meaning that many companies end up flaring the gas on site, a wasteful practice that also contributes to climate change.

As the oil wells in the Bakken formation continue to mature, they will produce higher and higher volumes of natural gas, output that could eventually put a cap on North Dakota’s oil production because of regulatory requirements on flaring.

Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority, said the Cerilon plant would provide an in-state solution for some of that excess natural gas, as output of the byproduct continues to climb in the years ahead. North Dakota currently has 32 conventional natural gas processing plants, but no facilities that can convert the gas into fuel.

In the most recent state report, North Dakota's oil industry captured 92% of its natural gas output, one point above the state goal, while they burned off the remainder.

Once completed, the first phase of the Cerilon facility will convert natural gas into 24,000 barrels a day of diesel fuel and other specialty products, according to the statement. Construction of the facility is expected to begin in 2023, and Cerilon intends to expand their GTL plant once the initial phase is complete.

In an interview, Commerce Commissioner James Leiman said the Cerilon facility will be "one of the largest projects in state history" and called it "the super highway" for North Dakota's carbon-neutral goal with its ambitions of facilitating cleaner energy investment in the state.

Construction of the facility will employ thousands of people in western North Dakota, Leiman said, and create around 100 longer-term jobs at the plant.

Readers can reach reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at awillis@forumcomm.com.