Air Liquide in $23 Million Arbitration Over Hydrogen Plant

, Reporter- Houston Business Journal

Air Liquide Process & Construction Inc., a Houston division of the French industrial and medical gas provider Air Liquide, is engaged in private arbitration to resolve a $23 million dispute with Turner Industries Group LLC, a Baton Rouge-based industrial construction company.

Turner filed a $23 million mechanic’s lien against Air Liquide, according to documents filed in late June with the Harris County Clerk’s office, alleging the company provided labor and materials to build the Gulf Coast SMR Hydrogen Plant in La Porte in 2011 as part of the company’s contract with Air Liquide. However, Turner claims the bill remains unpaid.

Air Liquide said in a statement that it is optimistic the dispute can be resolved amicably. Turner representatives didn’t return HBJ calls or emails.

The project was an important one for La Porte, said Stacey Osborne, the city’s economic development coordinator, because it amounted to a $400 million capital investment. Also, Air Liquide signed an industrial district agreement with the city, which means La Porte won’t try to annex the property and collect property taxes on it in exchange for a fee that Air Liquide pays to the city.

The amount of the lien is unusual, said Joe Marrs, a Houston-based partner at the Johns Marrs Ellis & Hodge LLP law firm.

“With an amount that high, you’d expect to see a lawsuit,” he said.

Marrs explained that a mechanic’s lien is typically based on a simpler, lower amount, such as roofing services, in a dispute in which the company filing the lien is concerned the property owner may sell it rather than pay the bill.

“I’ve never seen a $23 million lien,” he said.

Air Liquide broke ground on the project in May 2010; it was the first installation of a steam methane reformer plant built in the U.S. using its particular design for efficiency and environmentally responsible hydrogen production. The facility opened for business in April, with the expectation it would produce 120 million standard cubic feet per day of gaseous hydrogen that would feed into Air Liquide’s pipeline system along the Gulf Coast. Hydrogen is used during the refining process to remove sulfur and convert heavy crude oil into clean-burning fuel and petrochemical feedstock.

Air Liquide’s U.S. headquarters is in Houston, where the company employs about 1,200 people.

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