CASPER, Wyo. — A South African company with a history of building coal-to-liquid fuel plants has purchased land on the shore of Lake De Smet.
Sasol Synfuels, a Johannesburg, South Africa-based company, agreed to buy a plot of land along the lake previously owned by M&M Ranch Acquisitions. The company will control about 10,000 acres of land and 62,000 acre-feet of water rights.
A company spokesman said in an email that Sasol has no immediate plans for the land. The company instead views the land as "part of our overall strategic resource portfolio," Alex Anderson wrote.
If Sasol does one day develop the land, it may not be alone. Casper-based Nerd Gas Co. has expressed interest in building a coal gasification plant on a 14,000-acre plot along the lake, although those plans aren't imminent.
The land has "typical characteristics of a coal deposit in the Powder River Basin," Anderson wrote. He added that Sasol's North American focus is on expanding its reach in the integrated fuels and chemicals market.
Sasol has 60 years of experience in coal-to-liquid fuel facility development. The company opened its first plant — which converted coal to synthetic fuels and chemicals — in 1955.
The company has since branched out into other chemical and fuel development across the globe. Sasol owns plants in Maryland, Louisiana and Arizona and produces chemicals used in pharmaceuticals and ceramics used in medical procedures, among other things.
Sasol is also active in the research and development of biofuels, "clean coal" technology and natural-gas-to-liquids conversion technology. The company owns stakes in gas-to-liquids plants in Qatar and Nigeria and is also studying the feasibility of a similar plant in Louisiana.
The company also owns plants and other offices in Mexico, Canada, Dubai, Asia and Europe.
Sasol controls about a quarter of the water rights to the lake, which has for years been governed by a joint coalition board formed by Johnson and Sheridan counties. The two counties together own about 159,000 acre-feet, or about two-thirds of the available water rights.
Other private and public ventures, including ranches and an irrigation district, own the other 5 percent.
The counties are considering a $500,000 buyout agreement which would give Johnson County controlling stake, but the deal hinges on whether the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission signs a junior water rights lease with Johnson County.
The lease is $3 million for 99 years. It is designed to protect fishing and recreation on the lake. Johnson County has shown apprehension about the deal, and last week the Game and Fish Commission opted to delay a vote on the deal, instead asking attorneys to learn more details about Johnson County's plans to manage the lake.