Web Date: June 4, 2012
ExxonMobil Plans U.S. Expansions
ExxonMobil Chemical is planning a multi-billion-dollar ethylene and polyethylene expansion project for the U.S. Gulf Coast, making it the sixth firm to unveil cracker plans in little more than a year.
ExxonMobil aims to build an ethylene cracker with 1.5 million metric tons of annual capacity at its complex in Baytown, Texas. Downstream from the cracker, the company is planning two new polyethylene units, each with 650,000 metric tons of capacity, at its Mont Belvieu, Texas, facility.
The company has already filed applications for environmental permits with EPA and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The approvals are expected in about a year. According to the EPA filings, construction will begin next March and be completed in the second quarter of 2016.
ExxonMobil says the new plants are meant to tap into low-cost ethane feedstock derived from oil shale. “The natural gas revolution in the U.S., driven by industry innovation, is enabling U.S. chemical manufacturers like ExxonMobil to invest in America, create thousands of U.S. jobs, and increase sales to domestic and global markets,” according to a company statement.
The project, ExxonMobil says, will create some 10,000 construction jobs, as well as 350 permanent jobs. It will boost regional economic activity by $870 million per year.
Five other firms—ChevronPhillips Chemical, Dow Chemical, Shell Chemicals, Sasol, and Formosa Plastics—have unveiled plans for new crackers in the U.S. Many other firms have hinted at similar plans or are planning incremental expansions of existing facilities.
Balaji Singh, president of the Houston-based chemical consultancy Chemical Market Resources, says the market for ethylene derivatives such as polyethylene won’t be able to support all the new supply that is planned for the market. “You cannot have that much capacity; somebody has to drop off,” he says.
Thus, Singh notes, those companies that are able to bring capacity on-line before their peers will have a big advantage. It bodes well for ExxonMobil, he notes, that it has already filed for environmental permits for its project.
Of the firms that have announced new crackers thus far, Singh says ExxonMobil, Dow, and ChevronPhillips are the most likely to follow through with actual capacity in the ground. All three firms are planning their new plants at their existing massive petrochemical complexes. Building at such locations ought to be simpler than establishing a whole new petrochemical complex from scratch, he says.
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