Uzbekistan has set a new deadline for the commissioning and start-up of its $3.6 billion gas-to-liquids project in the Kashkadarya region after failing to bring it online last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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According to project operator Uzbekistan GTL, the plant is now set to come into operation in July, with overall completion reaching 94% as of 11 January.

About 9500 construction workers remain on site, the operator told Upstream. However, the project’s main building contractor, Uzbekistan’s Enter Engineering, has already started to reduce its workforce that was mobilised to the site last September to resume the project.

Construction efforts at the plant came to standstill in the middle of last year after rising numbers of Covid-19 infections prompted the evacuation of thousands of workers.

Additionally, the push from authorities to move faster with the project has met with resistance from workers who staged a protest in October over prolonged shifts.

The operator said that it now expects the plant to produce about 3.4 million barrels of jet kerosene, diesel fuel and naphtha before the end of this year, from between 1.5 billion and 1.6 billion cubic metres of natural gas to be supplied by its parent company, state-owned oil and gas producer Uzbekneftegaz.

When brought to full capacity, the GTL plant is set to process about 3.6 Bcm of gas, produced at the Shurtan field and purified at a nearby gas chemical facility, operated by Uzbekneftegaz.

The Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a major blow to the Uzbek economy, which experienced a sharp downturn last year following trade curtailments with its two major partners, China and Russia.

Last year, independent operators complained about delays in payments from Uzbekneftegaz and other state-owned consumers for delivered gas, forcing them to delay salary payments to workers and reduce headcount.

Interruptions have also been seen in supplies of gas, fuels and other petroleum products to consumers. Earlier this month, blackouts were reported in almost all regions of Uzbekistan that led to new interruptions of gas supplies as gas pumps stopped working at fields.

According to reports in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent, Uzbekneftegaz expects to produce close to 34 Bcm of gas this year against 42 Bcm in the pre-crisis year of 2019. The company has yet to disclose its actual gas production for 2020.