Shell will begin to produce oil products in its multi-billion dollar joint venture gas-to-liquids (GTL) project in Qatar in ‘a matter of weeks,’ a senior executive said on Tuesday. Pearl, the joint development by Qatar Petroleum and Royal Dutch Shell, will process about three billion barrels-of-oil-equivalent over its lifetime from the huge North Field stretching from the Qatari coast into the Gulf.

This will mark the start of commercial production in Qatar, which is home to the world’s largest GTL facility. ‘It’s very exciting because it’s a huge start-up,’ Vice President for Strategy Dick Benschop told reporters at an industry event. ‘The first crude is there and the product will be there soon.’ In March, Shell had said that it had begun producing output from natural gas wells offshore, allowing the first sour gas to flow through a subsea pipeline into the giant GTL plant onshore, Reuters reported.

Gas-to-liquids is a refinery process to convert natural gas or other gaseous hydrocarbons into liquids such as gasoline or diesel fuel. By using gas-to-liquids processes, refineries can convert some of their gaseous waste into valuable fuel oils, which can be sold as is or blended only with diesel fuel. Pearl GTL will produce oil products such as diesel, kerosene, lubricant oils, naphtha and paraffin. The GTL facility in Qatar is Shell’s second plant and is expected to cost $18 billion to $19 billion. It plans to produce 140,000 barrels per day by the end of the year and reach full capacity in the first quarter of 2012, Tasweeq told Reuters on Sunday.

GTL projects have received significant attention in Qatar in recent years. By 2012, Qatar is expected to have 177,000 billion barrels a day of GTL capacity at two facilities, the Pearl GTL project and the Oryx GTL plant, according to media reports. Oryx GTL is a joint-venture of Qatar Petroleum and Sasol-Chevron GTL, and has the capacity to produce 34,000 bbl a day of liquid fuels. It was the world’s first commercial-scale GTL plant when commissioned in 2006.